Chapter 1: Because it's only make believe
“So, what brings you up to London?” Crowley asked at last, when they had reached the fifth course of the tasting menu, were well into their second bottle of wine, and were reaching a shared rosy glow of contentment.
They were dining in a tiny restaurant hidden behind a shop in Soho. The kind of tiny restaurant that Crowley was pretty sure was booked up months in advance. He was also pretty sure Aziraphale had not bothered to book, as he had apparently only decided to take the train to London that day. They had seats next to each other at the single counter anyway. It was a very Aziraphale place, Crowley thought, with chefs that greeted him by name and an ever-changing menu. Nothing like that, he suspected, in the South Downs.
It was also full of people in expensive clothes barely tasting their beautifully prepared, half-foraged food because they were photographing it so they could casually let the world know they had seats there. Normally this kind of insult to the chef and food would have given Crowley any amount of pleasure, and all that bored self-indulgent wealth have given him lots of opportunities to do bad, but he had long ago decided that when he was with Aziraphale, he was off the clock.
Aziraphale, perched primly on his stool, fiddled with a very beautiful plate of what mostly looked like autumnal flowers and crystals of berry salt, but had some sliced duck hearts hidden among them. “Oh, dear,” he said. “I do feel rather bad eating duck. When we’ve spent so much time feeding them, too."
“Circle of life, angel.” Crowley speared a slice of duck heart from his own plate and popped it in Aziraphale’s mouth, avidly watching the surprised look, then the fluttered lashes and slight pink flush in the apples of his cheek. “There, that doesn’t actually feel bad at all, does it?” He could feel himself flush a little as well.
“I concede the point,” said Aziraphale, once he had swallowed. “That was succulent."
Succulent. There really were words that were sinfully inappropriate for that innocent mouth. Crowley felt he should encourage more.
“Glad we settled that. Now answer the question.” Crowley waited patiently for Aziraphale to admit he was bored witless in Suffolk, the food was no good, the weather was dismal, there were no decent drinking companions, he missed his book shop and he was going to give retirement up as a bad job and move back to just across the river from Crowley.
“I need you,” said Aziraphale, which was far more straightforward than Crowley had been expecting, even after two bottles of wine. The angel stared at his plate, turning as red as the little gems of pomegranate seed on it.
“Well,” Crowley said, at last, trying to keep any giveaway hoarseness out of his voice. “Here I am."
“It’s just that—oh, dear, some things are so difficult to say over the telephone apparatus, aren’t they? Especially if you have your voice messages on. It feels so impersonal, and I really couldn’t wait any longer to ask."
“Good strategy. I’m right here, go ahead,” Crowley said encouragingly, wondering if he should reach for the angel’s hand. Unfortunately, the angel’s closest hand was gripping cutlery as if it was a lifebouy. Crowley considered putting his hand on one invitingly touchable thigh instead.
“Will you come to a party with me?"
Crowley blinked, daydreams dissipating. “Angel, I don’t think we go to the same kind of parties."
“I’m afraid you’re right, my dear,” Aziraphale said miserably. “It’s a Christmas party. Goodwill to all is not really your area."
“I have no objection to Christmas parties,” Crowley said slowly. There had been a time when it was caught up with the memory of nails and crosses, but that had been a long time ago, and humans didn’t live very long anyway. “They’re quite useful. All that booze and resentment. Did you know I invented Secret Santas?"
“A family Christmas house party,” Aziraphale clarified.
“Well, I can do those, too,” Crowley said. “Do you know how much crime spikes over the holiday period?"
“No,” Aziraphale said firmly. “If you’re coming, I want you to promise to behave yourself."
“Well, if you don’t want me to come, you should just say so,” said Crowley, although he wasn’t actually willing to let go of the idea.
“Please come,” Aziraphale said, with an edge of desperation that Crowley found highly interesting.
They were interrupted by a change of plates. Aziraphale had barely touched his duck hearts, which struck Crowley as interesting, as the angel’s conscience rarely lasted long when it came to food. Surely the honeyed figs would keep his attention longer. They had been one of his favourite foods for literally thousands of years. As Aziraphale poked vaguely at his plate without even tasting it, Crowley found himself quite concerned.
“So what is actually up? Spit it out, angel."
Aziraphale sighed. “It's awkward. I’m afraid I got myself into a bit of a mess."
“And you need a wicked demon to do the dirty work of extricating you? Well, that’s what I’m here for. Your personal evil hero. So tell me all, and eat your pudding.” He scooped some of his own fig onto a spoon, and offered it, feeling a stab of glee when Aziraphale docilely accepted it ono his mouth.
“Oh, that really is delicious,” Aziraphale said, cheering up. “I suppose the situation isn’t so bad, really. But I’m afraid I told a bit of an untruth."
“Do tell,” said Crowley, repressing a grin.
“Well, there’s this lady who runs an antique shop in the main village. Nell. Charming lady, and really, her collection is quite exquisite. And very interested in books. We fell into the habit of lunching together quite often.”
Crowley was aware of a stab of jealousy. Of course, it was ridiculous to think Aziraphale didn’t have any dining partners other than himself. He was too amiable, and far too fond of his comforts. Still. He’d barely been living out in the country for three months, he didn’t have to rush to find a regular lunch partner, let alone a charming one. What did Aziraphale care for charm? He wouldn’t spend so much time with him if charm mattered.
“Hmph,” he said.
“Well, it seems, she got the impression that we were dating.” Aziraphale turned bright red. “That she and I were in a relationship,” he half whispered.
“Don’t be ridiculous! There are rules about that kind of thing. I don’t want to end up chained under a mountain because I fathered a giant monster."
“Things have gone that far?” Crowley could feel his eyebrows shoot up.
“No!” Aziraphale bit into some fig in an offended way. “I wasn’t aware they had gone anywhere at all, that’s the whole point. Until she tried to kiss me."
“I don’t suppose you told her politely that you were fond of her but just not attracted in that way,” sighed Crowley. “That would have been too easy."
“I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I’m rather afraid,” Aziraphale said, “that I told her I was sorry for the confusion, I was already married."
“I see,” said Crowley, who had a feeling he knew exactly where this was going. “So where is this spouse?"
“Working in game development in London and unable to come down because of crunch time.” For a moment Aziraphale looked proud of himself for knowing the terms, but then his face sank into troubled wrinkles again. He took a deep breath. “And, you see, I have a picture of us with the Bentley on the mantlepiece. Nell went straight over and picked it up and said she’d assumed you were my nephew, but now she could see the way you were leaning into me. And that we are a darling couple, and surely you were coming down for Christmas, and why don’t we stay with her family? Always room for more."
“You have a picture of the Bentley on your mantlepiece?” Crowley asked, touched to the bottom of his black heart. “I knew you loved her deep down."
“That’s not the point."
“No, the point is that you told a really stupid lie and instead of admitting to it, you’re going to dig yourself in deeper,” Crowley said happily. It sounded like his kind of situation. “Well, I’m glad to lend you a spade."
“Oh thank you, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, eyes round with gratitude.
Crowley drained his glass. “Better practice calling me Anthony, sweetheart."
“You don’t need to be sarcastic about it.” Aziraphale pursed his lips, looking hurt.
“I’m not. You can’t go around calling me by my family name after marriage unless we were at Eton together or something, and I don’t think I can pull that off. Although I’m sure you could. Still, awkward if someone asked us which year and turned out to have gone there."
“We don’t have family names. But—s-sweetheart? Is it really necessary to call me sweet-h-heart?"
Crowley sighed. “We’re really going to have to work at this, aren’t we? No, it’s not. Angel will do just fine for a start. Humans usually use it as an endearment, after all,” he added disingenuously.
Aziraphale relaxed a little. “I’ve noticed. Charming, isn’t it? They must have some residual memory of angels watching over and guiding them."
“Smiting their firstborn, visiting plagues on them and turning them into pillars of salt."
“Is that really necessary, my dear?"
Crowley frowned. “On the subject of endearments..."
“Well, ‘my dear’ will do quite well, won’t it?” Aziraphale paused, struck by a sudden thought. “This is going to be easier than I expected. When I think about it, we do already act like a married couple from a human point of view."
Crowley stared at him for a bit, but Aziraphale seemed quite cheerful and unconscious of having said anything of any particular importance.
“I suppose we do,” Crowley said at last, as the figs were exchanged for what he suspected was raw egg foam dolloped on slices of melon and pear. Aziraphale, having seemingly unloaded his worries, sampled it with ecstatic relish.
“Oh, you really must try this. So delicate and rich."
“Not ‘my dear,’” Crowley decided suddenly, on the basis of how Aziraphale looked with a tiny fleck of egg foam on his lower lip.
“Why not?” Aziraphale blinked his lashes at him.
“You call everyone ‘my dear’. You’ve called the chef ‘my dear’ three times already tonight. You called the snot-nosed child you tripped over on the way in ‘my dear’.You call pigeons ‘my dear’ when you feed them. I think that, as your husband, I deserve something more special. After all, I only call you ‘angel’. I require my own, unique endearment."
Aziraphale was so perplexed that he paused with his spoon on the way to his mouth. “Why? What would you like me to call you?"
Crowley gave him his most slow, careful smile, all exposed teeth and just a hint of tongue flashing briefly between them. “Oh, angel, I think I’ll leave that up to you. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with."
Aziraphale was spending the night at the bookshop and, Crowley assumed, spending it in deep passionate reconnection with his collection. On the walk back he took the angel's hand and tucked it into his arm before crossing the road, getting a slightly flustered sidelong look in return.
“Thank you, my dear. But I am capable of crossing the street by myself. I’ve been used to cars on the road for nearly a hundred years."
“Practice,” Crowley said firmly. “If you walk a cubit away from me, everyone will think we're on the point of divorce. We can work up to hand-holding.”
Aziraphale stole another glance up at him, looking becomingly flustered. “Cubit. That’s uncharacteristically old-fashioned of you, dea— Anthony."
“Perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic.” He paused at where the Bentley was parked half on the pavement and stroked her roof lovingly with one hand. “Hey, baby. Papa’s back. Do you know that Papa loves you?” he crooned.
“You’re not that car’s father," Aziraphale said testily.
“You’re her Papa. I’m Daddy."
Aziraphale detached his hand from Crowley’s arm and went inside, without inviting Crowley to follow. The bell jangled and the lock turned.
Crowley stared at the locked door, and decided he wasn’t exactly displeased with the flounce. The time until Christmas seemed ripe with opportunities.
1) I don't usually have two stories running at once, but given how research-heavy The Entire Bloody Boring Fourteenth Century is, daily updates on it are unlikely. I thought I needed something tropey and shameless to be going on with to fill my insatiable hunger to write and post about the boys. Don't worry, I will update every couple of days at the least.
2) So I thought I would use the "one fill per chapter" rule on Ineffable Husbands Bingo and fill as many as I could, which is obviously a brilliant idea. Although I don't think Serial Killers AU is actually going to be cropping up in this one, not without a major mood change
3) Story title and chapter titles are lyrics from Kylie Minogue songs, in honour of Dagon, who spoke to Crowley through the Pop Princess' voice. Does that mean my Paperwork Queen will turn up? Will they be series Dagon? Who can tell.
4) Dear Kanna, didn't you just finish a Fake Marriage ineffable husbands story? Yes. Are you sick of the trope yet? No. It's totally different this time because it's Aziraphale's idea and he actually asked first. At least that's my story.
Chapter 2: I'm looking for an angel
“Angel, I want a trial separation. You’re impossible.” The dial tone sounded.
Aziraphale sighed and sat down with his tea again. He felt quite strongly that he wasn’t the impossible one.
Aziraphale was nicely settled into his favourite chair with a cup of untasted tea when his phone rang.
He stared at the phone suspiciously. His tea was perfect, his favourite second flush Darjeeling, the leaves golden flowery orange Pekoe, prepared at exactly the right temperature, although he had forgotten to turn the kettle on at the plug. He hadn’t spent the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century hanging around Crowley without picking up a few habits around gadgets. The aroma was a perfect fruity muscatel, promising all kinds of pleasure, and the last thing he wanted to do was stand up and answer the phone instead of sipping it.
Only one person would have such infernal timing.
Aziraphale sighed, and lifted up the phone off its hook, tea in one hand.
“Where are you?” Crowley’s aggrieved voice demanded.
“My dear boy, you just called my home phone number. Where do you think I am?"
“What are you doing there? You’re supposed to be having breakfast with me."
Aziraphale glanced at the rather beautiful mahogany bracket clock he had picked out in 1815 and forgotten to wind more than four times, but was still working properly. The small hand pointed to two. “I’ve already eaten,” he said mildly.
“When has that ever made a difference? Why aren’t you in London? Oh sod off, we’re closed."
“Are you in the bookshop?” Aziraphale asked, a little annoyed. He took a sip of tea. It was delicious, but his perfect moment had been spoiled. “Crowley, I’m sure I locked up properly before I left."
“So what? If I never came in when the shop was closed and locked, I’d never be here at all. What do you mean that’s no way to talk to a customer? You’re not a customer, because the shop is closed. Get lost."
“You could at least have closed the door behind you."
“I wasn’t expecting to be followed. Look, the only way you’re leaving with that book is if I shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. How do you manage to get anything done, with people trying to buy books all the time?"
“It’s difficult,” sighed Aziraphale. He was secretly impressed with how direct Crowley was being with the potential customer. He always found the need to be polite while refusing to sell books a bit wearying.
“Talk to my manager? Do I look like I work here? Get. Out. Or I will make you. There, they’re gone. Now get back here and come to breakfast like an angelic angel.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I do hope that human doesn’t call the police to report a stranger in the shop."
“I don’t think so. They might have to explain why they took the book without paying,” Crowley said, a bit guiltily.
“It wasn’t one of your favourites."
“How do you know?” Aziraphale demanded, in agony.
“Look, I can’t interfere with shoplifting, you have no idea how many good marks that would earn me. Anyway, you deserve it. How can you spring a marriage on me and then vanish overnight?"
Aziraphale blinked. “Why? You agreed. I thought everything was settled. You said you didn’t mind doing it."
“Angel, I want a trial separation. You’re impossible.” The dial tone sounded.
Aziraphale sighed and sat down with his tea again. He felt quite strongly that he wasn’t the impossible one.
It was early closing at the antique shop, which kept more regular hours than the bookshop. Later that afternoon Aziraphale meandered gently down the road into the village, for his ritual of meeting Nell for cake and more, unfortunately less acceptable, tea. At some point he needed to convince the teashop that tourists would appreciate not paying four pounds fifty for a teabag and hot water.
The cakes were always scrumptious, as was the day. The lane down from the cottage was oak-lined and had been blazing with fiery colours what felt like only days ago, although tome went so fast. Now the last bright light of autumn filtered through the lovely shapes of the trees, the sky was a cold blue, and everything felt practically perfect. Aziraphale had the contented feeling that he had sorted everything out, and now could meet Nell in peace without any worrying expectations, although there was a tiny core of anxiety in his heart about the book. That terrible demon.
It was also a little dull. The thought flickered into his head, and Aziraphale extinguished it. Dull meant no Crusades, no plague, no war, no executions, no coming Antichrist. Dull was all he wanted. Dull was good.
Nell met him with a smile on her comely face and no awkwardness, to his relief. She locked up and tucked her hand in his arm, which gave him an odd stab of memory of Crowley guiding Aziraphale’s own arm into his elbow, and they set off towards the medieval centre of the town together.
Nell was telling him about a new furniture acquisition and he was trying to remember not to show he’d known the long-dead cabinet maker personally, when she said, “What a beautiful car! You don’t see many of them these days. Still, they shouldn’t park there. These tourists are so inconsiderate. I hope they get a ticket."
With a sinking feeling, Aziraphale looked across to the shining Bentley which was not so much parked as stopped and abandoned half on the kerb in front of the teashop.
“Oh, dear,” he said.
Crowley lithely sprang from the car. “Angel! I’m here!” he called cheerily, then stopped and glared daggers at Nell, who took the hint and hastily dropped Aziraphale’s arm, looking a little frightened.
“I can see that.” Aziraphale came forward warily, and Crowley grabbed his forearms and whirled him around so that Crowley’s back was turned to Nell.
Crowley leaned forward slightly, and one eyebrow crooked questioningly above his sunglasses. Aziraphale realised, with a slight jolt, that he was silently asking if he should kiss him in greeting. He nodded slightly in assent, then tilted his head back and brushed his lips against Crowley’s mouth.
“What are you doing here?” he whispered as their mouths parted.
Crowley didn’t say anything. He was standing completely rigid, his mouth slack, his hands digging into Aziraphale’s upper arms quite painfully. Aziraphale stepped back, feeling somewhat as if his own lips were on fire. Perhaps it was a demon thing. Hellfire. Or just the fact that demons probably didn’t go around sharing chaste little kisses often. Crowley was slightly opening and closing his mouth, looking stunned, and Aziraphale hoped he hadn’t stung him with holiness or anything.
Aziraphale turned away, trying to break the awkward moment. “Anthony, this is my friend Nell. Nell, my husband Anthony.” It felt strange to say, and there was a odd energy to it, as if something had shocked him under the rib cage.
“I gathered,” said Nell, beaming and apparently deciding to forgive the parking violation. “How lovely to meet you, dear. I thought you were caught up in London with—crunch time, was it?"
Crowley appeared to recover himself. He cast a possessive arm over Aziraphale’s shoulder. “I was fired."
“I—oh, dear—why—I’m so sorry..."
“Oh, nothing I did. Company was acquired and we all got laid off. Happens all the time.” Crowley gave her a dazzling smile. “I hope they enjoy the little surprise I left in the code for them."
Nell blinked a few times. “Will you get into trouble?"
“It will take them a while to notice,” he said reassuringly. "Internet in all forms is out all over London."
“Really? That’s very unusual. Why?"
“Yes, why?” Aziraphale echoed, in an entirely different tone.
“Could be malice. I heard someone influential’s husband stood them up for breakfast."
“Maybe they forgot to tell them they had a breakfast date in the first place."
“A successful marriage is all about anticipating each other’s needs, angel.” Crowley smiled sweetly at the confused Nell. “Would you like to join us for tea and coffee?"
Aziraphale turned away from Nell and glared at Crowley to let him know he had noticed and didn’t appreciate the careful nudging of his new friend into third wheel.
“I would love to,” Nell said, graciously. “Zira has been such a wonderful addition to our little community here. Are you staying long?"
“Oh, depends,” Crowley said happily. He gave Aziraphale a sidelong smirk. “Until after Christmas, at least.” He opened the door chivalrously and ushered them both inside, and Aziraphale was sure only he caught the mocking hiss, “Zira."
“Are you quite sure some more work won’t come up, dear?” Aziraphale asked, as Crowley, in what was probably a calculated effort to catch him off balance, pulled out a chair for him with a flourish.
“Don’t worry, my pet, I won’t take it. I’ve earned a holiday. What are you having, Nell? My treat.” His voice was pleasant, but he was glaring at her as if it was a challenge, one hand lazily summoning a waitress.
They ordered, and there was an uncomfortable silence, which Crowley suddenly broke. “Oh, I forgot! I brought you a present, angel. It’s in the Bentley."
“What is it?” Aziraphale asked warily.
“The History of Farming in Ontario,” he said, with unaccountable pride. The title was vaguely familiar.
“Oh! Are you interested in farming, Zira?” Nell asked.
“Only in as far as it contributes to his food,” Crowley said smoothly. “But you see, Zira had a copy once, and it was recently stolen from his bookshop. So I recovered it for him. Oh, coffee, thank—someone."
Aziraphale knew it was irrational considering Crowley had allowed the book to be stolen, but relief and gratitude at the restored book flooded through him anyway. He took a delicate forkful of angel food cake, beaming fondly and deciding to take it as an apology. “I do hope you didn’t do anything too terrible to get it."
“Only what was deserved for someone who dared to take one of your precious books. Bastard,” said Crowley, which was so unreasonable under the circumstances that Aziraphale gulped down his tea to hide his frown.
He realised he still held his forkful of angel food cake in his left hand, and raised it to his mouth. It was light as air, flavoured with rose water, and his eyes fluttered closed despite himself, his annoyance fading. Crowley really was very sweet in his own way, just like the cake… He let it melt in his mouth, and swallowed.
He heard twin dreamy sighs expelled in unison.
He opened his eyes to see Crowley scowling at so hard at Nell that his eyes were practically visible through his glasses. What on Earth was the problem now? He kicked Crowley under the table, and Crowley, unexpectedly, responded by reaching out across the table and lacing his fingers over his right hand.
Nell seemed to realise something was wrong, and not be sure why. She glanced nervously at Crowley, then down at the table.
“Poor Anthony has light sensitive eyes,” Aziraphale said softly to her. “Sometimes when they hurt they can make him look quite fierce. Don’t mind him, dear lady."
“Oh, of course!” She was all sympathy, except for a sliver of relief showing. “Poor dear."
Crowley had transferred his glare to Aziraphale again, thankfully. “Actually, I think I have a migraine coming on. Nell, so sorry to meet you and run, it’s been a pleasure. I’m sure I’ll see you very soon.” He cast a quite ridiculous amount of money on the table. Showoff. “Angel, I’ll get the cake packed to go for you.” He rose to his feet and sashayed across to the counter.
“I’m so sorry,” Aziraphale said to Nell.
“Not at all! I’m so happy to meet Anthony. He’s charming. And so good looking."
Aziraphale cast a glance at Crowley, lounging against the counter, his cropped jacket sitting just right about slender hips. “I suppose he is, really,” he mused despite himself, and Nell giggled.
“Don’t you worry about anything,” she said comfortably. “You just get your handsome husband to bed and look after him."
Crowley, returning to the table, froze for a moment, as if he had been shot. Then he shook his head, his cheeks flaming, and said, “That sounds like an excellent idea. Good bye, Nell. Come on, angel.”
He hauled Aziraphale to his feet, and they left the teashop together.
“Are you having fun?” Aziraphale shot at him, as Crowley opened the passenger door with unnecessary showiness.
Crowley showed his teeth. “Oh, sweetheart, I am having the time of my life. Get in the car."
1) Okay, so watching Aziraphale eat might be a *wide* definition of threesome for the bingo, but what can I do?
2) Yesterday was the first day in a very long while in which I didn't write a usable word, so being me, I decided I had forgotten how to write and would never write again. Woke up at 3 am and realised all I needed was alternating perspectives.
Chapter 3: You're lost in conversation and useless at Scrabble
Aziraphale's idea of a "cozy cottage in the South Downs". Plus negotiating the rules of the fake marriage, and also the Ancient Romans really were super affectionate.
Having a bingo card fill for "Fluff" feels like cheating, but this is the elected chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“That was quite rude,” Aziraphale said sternly, as the Bentley peeled off.
“I don’t like you eating cake around other people,” Crowley muttered. He clutched the box of cake on his lap with the hand not on the steering wheel, ready to slap Aziraphale if he tried to take it.
“I eat cake around other people all the time. We spend most of our time together eating around other people, and I usually have cake.” Aziraphale paused. “Or cannoli. Or soufflé. Or sorbet. Or...”
“They don’t usually sit there watching you. It was wrong. I think the human has a fetish for watching pure heavenly souls indulge in vices, and I was just saving her from a nasty spot on her soul. All part of the Arrangement. You owe me a temptation, now."
Aziraphale sniffed and started sorting through CDs, not that there would be time to put any on. Crowley was sure it was a snub.
“Look, I was bored and I wanted to see our cottage,” Crowley pouted. “I’ve never been good at small talk. By the way, where is it?"
“Other direction,” Aziraphale sighed. “I was wondering when you’d ask."
They tore down the correct lane at last, and pulled up. There was a salt tang on the air, and the sun streamed weakly through the clouds, lighting up the Suffolk Pink limewash on the… cottage. Crowley sprawled back in his seat and grinned at the huge fifteenth century farmhouse, as prim and perfect as something from a fairytale. Of course Aziraphale chose a pink house.
“Your cosy little cottage, angel? I’m so glad you are restricting yourself to a humble life in the country."
“Oh, hush,” said Aziraphale, turning the same shade as the cottage, if it could be called that.
Crowley jumped out, cake box clutched in his hands, and bounded up the gravel path. It was a huge garden, bounded by hedges. Crowley wondered how many extra acres came with it. He noted that the winter jasmine was looking a bit ragged, he would have to have a nice little chat with it later, and the viburnum was positively undisciplined. Poor downtrodden angel clearly needed him. He thought it was enough to let plants flourish and bloom with joy in his holy presence, he had no idea about imposing proper subservience. The garden needed to be taught to respect Aziraphale.
The dark wooden door opened at a snap of his fingers, and he looked around with curiosity. The rooms were wide and spacious, with exposed floors—time had been, when those would have been shameful, but now the shine was pretty—and huge fireplaces, but also, he noted, excellent central heating. No coating of grease from lamps and candles like he remembered in places like this, just clean pure light. There were bookshelves everywhere, and priceless knickknacks he remembered from the bookshop, all mementos of Aziraphale’s long life.
Crowley was conscious of a pang. The angel really was trying to put out some roots here. Shame they would have to be brutally ripped out, but the countryside was too dull for more than a visit. It was for his own good.
The kitchen was less impressive, and looked like Country Kitchen 1990s style. If Crowley ended up staying here longer than planned, he would have to have it ripped out and replaced with something more contemporary. He needed to send for his espresso machine. There was an electric kettle at least, and in the sink--
“Angel,” he said tenderly. “You’ve been trying to cook."
Aziraphale, who had been padding patiently behind him, clasped his hands defensively over The History of Farming in Ontario. “Well, it’s not like I can just wander out to the nearest place every time I get peckish. It’s quite a walk to the village."
Crowley stared at the encrusted, overcooked egg on the bottom of a saucepan. It gave him a strange tremulous feeling in what he supposed was his heart. “You know there are apps you can use to get food delivered whenever you want? Tourist trap like this would be bound to cater for delivery.” Aziraphale blinked, and Crowley sighed. “Of course you don’t know about plebeian meal delivery apps, my spoiled gourmand. You really do need a husband to take care of you, don’t you? Never mind, I’m here now.” He snapped his fingers and the dishes were clean. “I can take you out for food whenever you want. I can do any cooking necessary, too."
“You can cook?"
“I watch TV, don’t I? Can’t be that hard. Reality cooking shows have been a source of much approval down there. Some innocent old lady has her footage edited to make it look like she did something underhand, social media goes bonkers calling for her blood, I get a commendation."
“That’s not very nice."
“The humans love it. Nothing like a target for hatred and outrage.” Crowley strolled out of the kitchen. “Oh, good, there’s a conservatory, I don’t have to miracle one up. My plants are arriving tomorrow, so I can’t take you shopping until then."
“You’ve sent for your houseplants to be moved?"
“I don’t want them to get rebellious. Leave them alone too long, and they’ll start planning a coup."
“I think you’re confusing them with demons."
“Well, they are like my children. Like Daddy, like plants. And rebellious children have to be cast out, that’s the rule, isn’t it?"
Aziraphale ignored the bait. “How long are you intending to stay?"
“Until Christmas, obviously. And then—" Crowley hesitated. It might be tactless to say until you get bored with this whole stupid retiring to the country idea and come back to London with me like a good angel. “We’ll see. You don’t want your new friends to think your marriage is in trouble, do you?” He spun on his heel and slithered up the stairs.
“Five bedrooms, Aziraphale? What do you need with five bedrooms and three bathrooms? This is excessive indulgence. You don’t even sleep. I like the hot tub, though. Thoughtful of you to get one big enough for two. Which bedroom is mine?"
“Whichever you like, dear,” sighed Aziraphale, following him upstairs.
“Well, not the one with twin beds, everyone will think we’re on the verge of divorce. Warlock can use that if he brings a friend to sleep over. Oh, I like this one.” Crowley bounced on a bed with a huge, ornate dark oak frame. “Yep, I like this one very much. Wonderful mattress, wasted on you.” He kicked off his snakeskin shoes and slid under the sheet and patchwork comforter to test it. “Good choice.”
He snuggled into the deep pillows. It was comfortable and warm, and oddly smelled of Aziraphale, although that was probably just because he was standing close. He could detect the scents he identified with the angel, sun on skin and fresh clouds and newly baked cake, under the new cologne. He tasted the air carefully with the tip of his tongue. He could get used to this one. Rich red roses over woodsy smells and herbs and booze, opulent and bracing and sweet all at once...
“I’m glad you approve. Wait—Crowley."
“Don’t go to sleep! We need to talk."
Crowley blinked awake, a little irritated now he had settled for a nice afternoon nap surrounded by lovely angel fragrance. “Now?"
He pushed himself up on one elbow. “Yeah, go on, then."
Aziraphale glared at him a moment, then snatched up the cake box. “I’m going to make some tea."
Crowley stared after him for a moment before realising he was supposed to get out of bed and follow. He rolled his eyes and obeyed.
Tea was already waiting. He picked up his cup. He preferred coffee, but Aziraphale could make tea like no one else, and it would do. And Aziraphale had actually sliced the remaining angel food cake in half and put it on two plates. Crowley had no real desire to eat his, and Aziraphale knew it, but the thought was there, and was token of forgiveness. Crowley decided to take it as such, especially as Aziraphale was his sole source of forgiveness in the world. He lounged back, cradling his cup.
“What do you need to talk about, angel, that is so serious you need tea for it?"
Aziraphale but his lip, glanced down, back at Crowley’s face, and down again. It wasn’t usually a good sign. “I think we need to establish ground rules as—as housemates."
“What, pick up my socks and underwear after myself? Don’t worry, I just cast them into the ether anyway. I’ve already said I’ll cook. And I won’t let us run out of hot water. Heating things up is kind of my thing."
“I mean, boundaries while you’re here."
“When have we ever needed boundaries between the two of us? Not for hundreds of years. There’s already the Arrangement. I won’t get in the way of your work, angel, and I’ll keep mine out of your way as much as possible."
“That’s not what I meant.” Aziraphale’s hands were restless, and he was blushing and fluttering. “I mean, with other people. Expressions of, of physical affection."
“Oh,” said Crowley slowly. “Physical affection.” He felt heat creep up his neck, and cursed himself for acting like a human adolescent. It was just… the angel. His wholesomeness was so achingly pure that half his demonic instincts told him to turn and flee before he was exorcised, and the other half was urging him to reach out and grab him.
“I realise I may have been out of order when I kissed you on the lips rather than the cheek,” Aziraphale said in a rush. “I thought that what was expected, but you seemed shocked. I apologise if it was too forward."
“N-no, that was fine. Just a peck. Rather too cool if anything. I mean, you hadn’t seen me since yesterday."
“I find it rather difficult to keep up with different fashions in greetings,” Aziraphale said, a little fretfully. “It changes all the time."
“You’re really worried about this, aren’t you?” Crowley said curiously. “Look, don’t worry about going too far. It’s pretty difficult to shock me."
Aziraphale raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?"
“Yeah, erhm, just taken by surprise. I assumed I would be the one to kiss you,” said Crowley, which was only half a lie.
“In human terms, I appear to be the elder. So it seemed appropriate that I initiate."
The formal phrasing was going to discorporate him with awkwardness. “This really isn’t about familial status, but it will do for a start. Look, this shouldn’t be a big deal,” said Crowley, hypocritically. “You used to kiss people on the mouth all the time in Rome."
“Well, isn’t that what I did?"
“Not the unfriendly closed mouth, half lip kiss. Use both lips, with real affection.” He was sure his face was matching his hair. “I’ve seen you kiss both men and women hundreds of times like that, you can’t have forgotten completely. The only difference is that it’s me, and you never kissed me.”
Aziraphale was staring at him, expressions moving across his face so fleetingly that Crowley wasn’t sure he could catch them all. “Crowley, you were a demon. Well, you still are."
“Yeah, I know, and we didn’t have the Arrangement, couldn’t exactly go about kissing your Adversary like a friend.” He took a gulp of the tea as an excuse to look away. “I suppose it’s all right now. Should have thought of that before you asked me to pose as your husband, maybe."
“I used to bless people when I kissed them. Not even consciously, I didn’t have enough human control over my powers yet. I was afraid my blessing would burn you, in a way that couldn’t be fixed. We may not have been close then, but I had no desire to reduce your mouth to bubbling ichor."
Crowley stared at him. In all his years of imagining and daydreaming and bitterness, that had never occurred to him.
“I wasn’t entirely at ease about my own safety, and I thought you never kissed me in greeting out of similar considerations. I’ve seen you produce hellfire from your mouth on occasion.” Aziraphale took a deep breath. “In fact, this afternoon, for a moment I feared I had indeed burned you."
“I don’t produce hellfire unless I choose to,” Crowley said weakly. “And, no, you didn’t burn. Not in that way."
It should be some kind of sin to look that adorable when puzzled. Aziraphale should be Falling right now, like the golden velvet wrapped temptation he was. Not that he could bear the thought of Aziraphale Falling, really. “Then what was the problem?"
“Just not used to it.” He took a deep breath. “I never kissed anyone out of affection. It was always the prelude to, well, deception or temptation. And I haven’t done much of that since, well, it doesn’t matter. I knew it was for the purposes of deception, it just—“ Didn’t feel like that. It felt tender and somehow significant. “I know you, and you’re not a target. It took me by surprise."
“I’m sorry if this is painful for you,” Aziraphale said awkwardly. “If you’d rather change your mind, I can make an excuse for you going back to London."
“No, no it’s not that. It’s fine. I will be better prepared next time.” He made himself smile, long and slow and confident, pulling off his glasses. “It will be fun."
“Oh dear,” sighed the angel, but his lips were quirking.”Your idea of fun is sometimes somewhat alarming."
Crowley smiled for real this time. “All good now?"
“Well, you talked about working up to hand-holding. And in the tea shop you held my hand.” Aziraphale brought his own cup to his lips.
“Too much?” He hadn’t been able to help it, really. It had been an instinctive gesture of ownership in the face of that human woman, and he knew it.
Aziraphale glanced at him over the rim of the cup, and away. “No. No, that was acceptable. I think hand holding is appropriate.” His gaze flickered back to Crowley’s face, then his hand, and then he took another sip.
“Umm. Good. Right. Okay.” Crowley’s fingers were twitching.
The phone rang, saving them both from the conversation. Aziraphale went to answer it with some haste, while Crowley found himself bristling. It wasn’t like it was the shop. There was no way this was an enquiry about a book. This was someone who Aziraphale had presumably given his number to, on purpose so they could contact him.
Or someone selling double glazing. Crowley relaxed a little.
“Tristan! How good to hear from you, my dear,” Aziraphale said warmly.
Or not. Crowley decided, out of pure spite, to eat his half of the cake after all. He shoved it in his mouth whole, then nearly choked when Aziraphale said, “A party? Tonight?” Crowley washed the cake down with the tea. What kind of party did they have in a place like this, anyway? Was it just code for a cosy game of Scrabble? Tristan. Tristan sounded like the kind of name someone—well, like Aziraphale would have. Someone who would play Scrabble and discuss old books and telegraph crosswords and have fine brandy and be erudite and witty and as gay as a scarlet macaw. Crowley hated him already.
“You see, my husband Anthony—oh, you heard about him from Nell? That’s very kind of you,” Aziraphale went on, his tone firm, “but he’s just got home from London and he’s tired from the drive--"
Crowley twisted the receiver out of his hand. “Hullo—Tristan, is it? I’m Anthony. Oh, that beautiful big house on the main street? Oh, yes, she's a custom body Derby Bentley, one owner from new, my pride and joy. Of course, they were all custom. I’d adore to show her off to you. No, no, Ezra is just coddling me. Yeah, he is a big old sweetie, isn’t he? Just the perfect way to describe him.” He smirked at Aziraphale. "We would love to come. I can’t wait to meet everyone. Okay, yeah, see you at eight, ciao."
He hung up, and said, “Looks like you have a few hours to come up with my special endearment, you big old sweetie, you. I’m taking a nap.” He headed for the stairs.
“Hmm?” He turned back, and Aziraphale came forward, an odd, determined look on his face.
“I’m sorry about Rome."
Crowley blinked. “Angel, that was a very, very long time ago."
“But I hurt you with my caution."
“Nah, of course not. We were enemies."
“We were The Enemy, but never enemies. And I did hurt you. I didn’t mean to make you feel less to me than any human.”
Aziraphale bit his lip, glanced away, and then stepped forward, reaching up. He placed his hands behind Crowley’s head, fingers curled above the neck, a thumb on each cheek—taking me by the ears, Crowley thought, the old phrase coming back—and drew down his face and kissed him, once on the lips, lips parted and pliant, then pulling Crowley’s head down more to plant a soft, warm kiss on each eyelid. Mouth-to-mouth-to-eyes, tender and intimate.
“Tibi placidia somnia cupio.” Aziraphale smiled up at him, open and innocent, as if he had no idea Crowley’s world was flying apart with each embrace. Just filling in a missed gesture of friendship from centuries before, making sure a friend wasn’t hurt.
“See, no ichor,” Crowley said unsteadily. His mind fled back to Ancient Rome, to drunkenly whispering to Aziraphale’s retreating back, knowing the angel couldn’t hear, and despite himself the same words escaped him in a rush. “Vale. Memento, tu angelus meus es"
And then, just like he had that day, he turned and fled.
The bedroom door closed behind him, and he flung himself on the bed, aware of nothing but the shadows of kisses on his mouth and eyes, and of his own horrified embarrassment at himself.
1) Back in the day, I read one too many book fandom South Downs cottage stories in which they had one tiny bedroom and fretted about the rent/cost. This is more how I see them, sacrificing not one inch of comfort.
2) Although I now I associate Aventus with Gabriel marking Aziraphale out as property (entirely my own fault), I still think Creed would be Aziraphale (and his barber’s) perfume house of choice. So if you’re curious, this is Windsor, a 2009 perfume based on one given to Edward VIII on his abdication. Rose, eucalyptus, pine, gin, lime, cedar, orange.
3) It would be really unfortunate if Crowley did the “produce hellfire from your saliva to sign paperwork” trick while kissing.
4) I read and write no Latin, pleb that I am. Thank you to Daemonia for Tibi placidia somnia cupio (I wish you the most pleasant dreams) and Memento, tu angelus meus es (remember, you are my angel) as better than my originals, Thanks and kisses!
Chapter 4: Only you, you get me acting crazy like I do
“Come now. It will be fun,” Aziraphale said happily.
“Do you think anyone would notice if I sank into a pool of brimstone and went back to Hell? Not that I could probably tell the difference."
“Aziraphale, are those new clothes?” Crowley was staring at Aziraphale with his hardest attention.
“Nice of you to finally notice."
“I thought you’d settled on your look for the next three centuries."
“It wasn’t really suitable for the country. Besides, my waistcoat was getting a little worn. I was afraid of losing it altogether if I wore it too much. And my jacket—my jacket is precious."
“Hmmph.” Crowley reached out and slid his hand down one sleeve of the tailored cashmere cardigan, feeling the cloud-like plushiness of it, letting his hand drift to the lapels that made it just enough like a jacket that Aziraphale was comfortable wearing it out. He straightened Aziraphale’s bowtie. “I was beginning to think you’d stopped caring about keeping up standards. Let’s go.” It wasn’t a compliment by any means, but something in the demon’s expression made Aziraphale feel oddly happy, especially when Crowley stopped by the wall of the cottage and broke off a stem of winter jasmine starred with golden flowers.
“And if you don’t start standing up better, I’ll break off a lot more than that,” he snarled in a perfunctory way, and then tucked the fragrant stem in Aziraphale’s breast pocket. “Needed a touch more gold,” he said shortly. “Come on, let’s party. For a given value of the word party. I want to show off my husband."
Aziraphale felt he should have been happy that Crowley seemed enthusiastic about the party. He couldn’t help a little a drop in his stomach when Crowley slithered into the driving seat with a complacent grin.
“I’m afraid it’s not going to be quite your kind of party.” Aziraphale plucked at his sleeves.
“What do you know about my kind of party, angel?” The Bentley showered gravel across the drive as it pulled out.
“I mean that there’s not going to be a lot of decadence and sin there."
“Aziraphale, anywhere you go is decadent. You can shower decadence over a train station caff just by ordering extra butter on your toast. And sin is where you—or rather I—find it."
“None of that,” Aziraphale said sharply. “The Arrangement is in force, and you know you ceded this whole area to me long ago."
“Did I?” The demon pursed his lips, which didn’t help Aziraphale’s anxiety. “I’m not sure I recall that."
“You got Camberley in return."
“Ah. Wasn’t that aesthetics and atmosphere only? It explains all the pink houses here, though."
“Please behave for just one evening. They’re my friends."
Crowley was silent for a few heartbeats, frowning at the road. “You were only invited at the last minute,” he said quietly, almost as if he was afraid of hurting Aziraphale’s feelings.
“No, you were invited at the last minute, Crowley, out of kindness. It had slipped my mind because a demon turned up in town saying he was staying until Christmas."
“Anthony,” Crowley said. “Might as well practice calling me that before we get there, Zira. Unless—well.” The hard line of his mouth relaxed a little. “Have you decided on an endearment?"
“You’re being ridiculous.” Aziraphale turned to stare out the window, even though the speed at which the countryside was flashing by made him feel wobbly.
“I’m not. Have you thought about it at all?"
Of course he had, trying out different options in his head, imagining saying them while looking at Crowley, feeling himself curl up inside as if he was a cat protecting its vulnerable belly. Which was probably the point. Crowley took altogether too much pleasure in unsettling him. He went for the safest option. “If my dear is too general, then I thought perhaps dearest might show that you are, well, in a more special category."
Crowley was wordless so long that Aziraphale turned to look questioningly at him. “I’ll take it. We’re here.”
The demon sprang out of the car without further comment, and Aziraphale reached for the door handle. The door was already opening, though, and Aziraphale found himself being carefully handed out in a way that reminded him of other times, of carriages and hansom cabs. Crowley had once prided himself on being chivalrous and the perfect gentleman, before joyfully embracing modern casualness and the potential to be rude at all times.
A cool hand slid into his, pressing palm to palm, fingers loosely weaving through his. “Ready for some fun?"
“It really is going to be fun,” Aziraphale promised, with a small smile. “You’ll see."
Aziraphale couldn’t help noticing that Crowley was a bit of a discordant note at the party. He looked cool and sharp, for a given value of cool, in his tight black clothes, and had been polite and even charming during introductions. He had clasped Tristan’s hand as if he was a long lost friend, and even complimented him on his beautiful house. Aziraphale had started to relax a little.
Now the demon’s good humour was already visibly fading. Crowley was restlessly circling Aziraphale, neck outstretched warily, as if scanning the room for threats. It was ridiculous. The room was full of warm, happy, well-dressed humans enjoying each other’s company. No threats to be seen.
“Fetch me another drink, dearest,” Aziraphale said, trying to break the tension a little, or at least focus better on his conversation with Nell, who was looking perfectly charming in a burgundy wool dress. A tartan burgundy wool pencil dress, he felt like pointing out to Crowley. Tartan was stylish.
“Yeah, more alcohol is a good idea,” Crowley said morosely. “Anything else I can get you, angel?"
“Some more canapés would be nice. And a drink for Nell."
Crowley headed off in the direction of Tristan, who looked distinguished in his impeccably casual blue tartan shirt.
“He's so whipped,” one of the London voices said at the edge of Aziraphale’s hearing. “Makes no sense. I mean, someone who looks like an ageing rock star can’t be all that thirsty. I’d climb that like a tree."
There was a snort of laughter from his companion. “I see it. I’d rather sit on Zira like an armchair."
Aziraphale found modern idioms hard to follow, but he filed the conversation in his head to ask Crowley to translate later. He turned back to his conversation with Nell about Wodehouse first editions.
He was rudely interrupted. “Angel, we’re leaving. Right now,” Crowley hissed urgently into Aziraphale’s ear.
Aziraphale looked up, a little annoyed. Crowley grabbed his arm and steered him away with no pretence at manners.
“We’ve barely got here. Did you forget my drink?”
Crowley gave him a desperate, terrified look. “We don’t have long to escape. Come on, my migraine is coming back."
“Whatever do you mean, we don’t have long?"
There was a bright ringing of spoon against glass. “Attention, everyone.” Tristan’s handsome face was smiling. “There’s a few people here tonight who have yet to have met each other, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to have an icebreaker."
“Oh Satan, it’s too late,” moaned Crowley. “I warned you."
“Ah.” Aziraphale beamed. “Party games."
“Don’t sound like that. Didn’t you claim credit for having invented them?"
“I did invent them. I wasn’t supposed to play them myself."
“Come now. It will be fun,” Aziraphale said happily.
“Do you think anyone would notice if I sank into a pool of brimstone and went back to Hell? Not that I could probably tell the difference."
“I thought,” said Tristan’s resonant bass voice, “we could start with something a little boisterous. What about Reverend Crawley’s Game?"
“There, my dearest.” Aziraphale patted Crowley kindly on the arm. “It’s named after you and everything."
Crowley made an agonised sound that no human throat should have been able to produce.
“Right, everyone, drinks down and in a circle. Come close in."
Aziraphale took Crowley’s hand and pulled him towards the circle. They were nearly there when Crowley’s hand slid with serpentine slipperiness out of his grip. Aziraphale tutted and looked around, ready to scold him for trying to escape the game. Crowley, to his surprise, had joined the circle several places away from him. Perhaps he really was in one of his sulks and was making a point.
“All right,” Tristan said. “Everyone, reach out and take someone’s hand in each hand, but not the person next to you."
Crowley’s hands moved like twin vipers striking, and Aziraphale’s hand was caught in a cold clasp. Ah, so that was it. Of course Crowley knew the rules. Aziraphale looked with interest to find that Tristan’s brown hand was also in a sudden demonic grip, apparently a little to his surprise.
There was much giggling and crossing of hands across the circle, and Aziraphale found his hand in the grasp of the pleasant young man from London who had compared him to an armchair, which Aziraphale would have found quite insulting if not for the tone. It was hard to be sure behind his dark glasses, but Crowley seemed to be glaring at the poor boy for some reason.
“Right. Now… untangle!"
There were shrieks and titters as people began to crash into each other, ducking and weaving and twisting. Everyone, Aziraphale noted, was just tipsy enough to be giggling and clumsy. The young man whose hand Aziraphale was holding dived towards him, but Aziraphale was twirled away by Crowley’s grasp, coming bodily up against an elderly lady he recognised as a frequent antique shop customer instead, and nodding politely at her despite the embarrassing closeness. He could feel hot breath down his collar, but before he could work out who it came from Crowley had pulled him away again, and the gentleman who ran the post office was apologising and trying to slide under their linked arms. A young lady fell with a squeal at the side of the circle but managed to keep hold of her companions, laughing helplessly as people stepped over her arms and legs.
How could Crowley object to this? It was all wholesome gaiety.
Perhaps the name of the game was not actually a coincidence, although Aziraphale had no idea how anyone could mistake Crowley for a Reverend. Maybe it was all the black he wore. Either way, there seemed a distinct advantage to being serpentinely inclined in a game of this kind. Crowley ducked and weaved and slid with a grim expression, apparent purpose and what seemed like altogether too many joints to be human. Aziraphale resigned himself to just hanging on and surrendering to his lead, dragging the young Londoner along with him as he was spun and tugged and crashed against other people.
Crowley stepped agilely over a pair of arms from two people bent over nearly double in their attempts not to let go—how could Crowley, who normally struggled to walk straight in a convincingly human fashion, suddenly be so precise in his movements?— and although their arms were now stretched out awkwardly with Harriet from the pet shop’s arm caught between their forearms and linked hands, Crowley was now pressed against his side.
“I’m going to get you back for this, my turtle-dove,” he hissed into Aziraphale’s ear. “The tortures I endure for you.” There was a brief, surprisingly velvet pressure on Aziraphale’s cheek right next to his ear, and Crowley ducked away again.
Right. Of course, it was natural for a married couple who found themselves in that position to indulge in an affectionate kiss on the cheek. Would be odd if they didn’t. No reason for Aziraphale’s cheeks to flame up in response. Turtle-dove. Crowley was ridiculous.
Crowley must have moved too abruptly, because Tristan stumbled hard and had trouble righting himself, his normally poised demeanour spoiled.
And suddenly, without any clear reason, the large tangled knot righted itself into two separate circles of laughing people, hand in hand, the fallen being helped to their feet. Aziraphale felt the death grip of Crowley’s cool hand relax, and turned to smile warmly at the man holding his other hand in a more human grasp, as he released it. The man looked pleased, pretty hazel eyes lighting up; he can’t have meant any harm by his comments before. Crowley kept holding Aziraphale's hand but dropped Tristan’s as if it was something unpleasant.
“See?” Aziraphale said, laughing up at Crowley. “That wasn’t too bad, was it?”
Crowley made a sound between a growl and a hiss.
Tristan stepped towards the centre of the room and clapped his hands. “Right, now we’re all warmed up and getting closer to each other—“ There was a twitter of appreciative chuckles — “time to get to know each other really well."
He picked up a tablet, and showed it to the gathering. “We pick a number from this waste paper basket, and then we go in the order of our numbers, and we all get three minutes to talk with the group about our fun conversational question. It’s a great way to find out really interesting things about each other.” There was a delighted chorus of anticipatory giggles and whispers.
Crowley leaned in to whisper in Aziraphale’s ear. “If you make me do this, I’m going to discorporate. No, wait, I am going to fucking discorporate you, and then take a shower in holy water. I am warning you, angel."
Aziraphale glimmered up at him. “Nonsense, darling. It’s going to be fun.” He rose on his tiptoes and planted a kiss on the side of Crowley's jaw.
Crowley abruptly turned red and shut up, and Aziraphale had a weird, giddying sense of power. Who knew that demons were so easy to embarrass into compliance? He should have tried this decades ago.
He smiled serenely at the gathered company, cradling Crowley’s hand in his, and said to Tristan, “What a perfectly scrumptious idea."
1) Fashion notes, for those of you who like them. Aziraphale wears a Brunello Cucinelli tailored cashmere cardigan , described as “perfect for throwing on before lounging by the fireplace”, although I assume his trousers and shirt are personally tailored.
3) Yeah this entire chapter was an excuse to make Crowley die inside. Serves him right for inventing these bloody games, I blush even reading the descriptions of something like Birdies on Perches, you demonic bastard. The amount of painful icebreaker games I’ve had to play at work training sometimes, I would prefer paintball with real guns to learning and sharing “interesting facts” about each other. Also, if you are one of the people who claim to like charades and suggest them at gatherings, you are a demon from Hell and I am on to your game.
But also knowing there is a parlour game called Reverend Crawley’s Game was just too much for me.
Chapter 5: Be my supernova
A party is the obvious place to discuss deadly sins and supernovas.
Tristan was even worse than Crowley had feared. He was a good half head taller than the demon, about forty and ageing extremely well, with clearly developed musculature filling out his moleskin jeans and impeccably casual blue shirt. His impeccably casual blue tartan shirt, the sneaky bastard. He also had delicate gold-framed glasses, tight dark curls and a kind smile, and Crowley could feel the venom threatening to drip from his own eye teeth. He felt short and skinny and pale and insignificant, and all he could do was thrust his weight on one hip and think sexy as hard as he could, while comforting himself with the thought that this man would be dead of old age and out of their lives in no time at all, relatively.
It was impossible to fool himself that Tristan wasn’t interested in men, either, not given his guests from London. The room was the exact mixture of moneyed, educated respectability and discreet camp that Crowley had most feared, on the grounds that it would fit Aziraphale like a glove. And it did. The angel was clearly having the time of his life, hellish party games and all, beaming like a daffodil in Spring. It was the bloody Victorian era all over again. Or the 1930s. Either way, it stank like sulphur and burned Crowley's tongue.
Crowley had the despairing feeling that this was Aziraphale land, tartan and all, and the only jarring note here was the snake who had just slithered in on his arm. Aziraphale was so happy. For the first time, he found himself seriously considering if this retirement to the South Downs thing was not just an inconvenience, like that times Aziraphale had decided to work in monasteries for a few months or years before becoming bored, or a sign of something deeper. Something Aziraphale had actually been missing, and could find here.
Still. Aziraphale had just kissed his jaw, and he had the advantage of six thousand years of propinquity. And of officially holding the husband title. He was pretty sure that would keep Nell at bay, even if she had been optimistic enough to think he might fancy something a bit on the womanly side, but Tristan… He was altogether too good looking and suspiciously untroubled to meet Crowley. Not happy. Untroubled. As if dismissing him as not a threat, before turning his attention to Aziraphale, the wealthy new queen in the neighbourhood. Crowley didn’t trust him one inch.
He held onto Aziraphale’s hand and fretted through the insanely boring answers to “What is your most embarrassing holiday memory?” “What was your favourite book as a child?” and “If you were in a circus, what role would you play?” He was mildly interested in “What famous dead person would you bring back?” because he could have told them some things he personally knew about Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill that would make their toes curl. Aziraphale was obviously thinking the same thing because there was a warning pressure on his hand.
Crowley's number was 6, because of course it was. Aziraphale was smiling encouragingly at him, so he went forward to the seat at the middle of the circle and reluctantly touched the tablet, cursing himself for his weakness. It was the way Aziraphale seemed to make his eyes go even bigger and rounder when he wanted something, and then went all gentle and glowing when he got it. Bastard.
“Which of the seven deadly sins represents you best?” Crowley's lips curled despite himself. Aziraphale was looking suspiciously at him, and Crowley spread his hands to show innocence. Any exertion of demonic power had been purely unintentional. “Well, that’s easy. I try to go in for all of them as a matter of principle, but I specialise in acedia. Sloth."
Aziraphale leaned forward, looking interested. “I don’t know, dearest, you work very hard at taking credit for things other people have done or manipulating them into doing them for you or covering up not having done them at all. Harder than if you’d actually done the work in the first place, I sometimes think. An excellent example of evil always being its own downfall. Isn't superbia more apt, anyway? Pride and hubris have always been your signature.”
Crowley glared at him, despite being a little touched by how much interest Aziraphale took in his work. Of course, one way or another, Aziraphale ended up doing a lot of his work for him. “I’m extremely proud of my laziness.” Aziraphale raised an eyebrow, and Crowley sighed. “Point taken. I still think of sloth as one of my better points.” He grinned, and added meaningfully, “I’m thinking of going in more for luxuria and fornicatio these days.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Yes, dearest, I’m sure you will try very hard,” he said crushingly, which made Crowley dissolve. He was helpless when Aziraphale was bitchy.
He tried to regain his mental footing. “Avaritia is a good one, too. No such thing as too much money. Especially with your taste in restuarants to support."
“Vanagloria goes without saying,” said Aziraphale, sounding quite admiring of him for it. It was nice to feel supported. “In those jeans, anyway."
“Unfair blow. It’s only vainglory if it’s not justified."
“Superbia,” Aziraphale murmured again, smugly.
“In any case, vanagloria is usually replaced with invidia these days. Wanting what you can’t or shouldn’t have and doesn’t belong to you. Well, I suppose I do suffer from that. Suffer terribly.” He tried to look tragically and longingly at Aziraphale, but judging from the kindly pity he was met with, the angel was thinking in terms of Grace and Heaven and not in more directly romantic or seductive ways. Which kind of proved the point.
“What about wrath?” asked Nell, in a fascinated tone.
“Oh, he’s not all that bad-tempered. An old softie, really,” said Aziraphale lightly. “That’s a point, you might need to work on your ira to keep appearances up."
“Try me,” growled Crowley, unsure if he should be scowling at Aziraphale, Nell, Tristan or the man who had talked about sitting on Aziraphale. “What are we missing?"
“You should know, dear. It’s your area of expertise."
“Really? Because I think gula is all yours."
“Oh, no, I’m not the glutton. I just enjoy the pleasures of life. You can outdrink me any time, and just look at the luxury you keep yourself in, without even enjoying it. That’s the essence of gula, if you ask me. Endless consumption without joy."
“I enjoy my Bentley,” he said defensively.
“Yes, darling, but is it a luxury or a substitute child?"
Crowley snorted, conceding the point, possibly because the darling was leaving him blushing again. “That leaves tristitia."
“Isn’t that ten sins?” asked some woman whose name Crowley had immediately forgotten on introduction.
“Eight, dear,” said Aziraphale. “Luxuria and fornicatio both come under Lust, and invidia and vanagloria are interchangeable, even though envy and vainglory are quite different really. Unfortunately, people often leave tristitia off the list to make seven. It's a shame because despair leads to the most sins of all and you should be especially on guard against it,” he added, looking far too close to waving a chiding finger at her. She cowered back into her seat a little, looking guilty.
“Tristitia is not exactly a fun sin,” said Crowley. “That might be why I’m not very good at it. Can’t help at least a little optimism in this glorious world."
Aziraphale smiled fondly at him. “I can’t say I’m sorry about that."
Tristan cleared his throat. “Ahem. Time’s up. Well done, Anthony, I think we all know much more about you now.” He gave Aziraphale a deeply sympathetic look, and Crowley reflected that actually wrath came quite naturally to him.
He caught a whisper of “No wonder he got fired,” from somewhere across the room, and “Poor Zira,” from somewhere else, but he couldn’t detect the culprits.
The angel and the demon exchanged places, and Aziraphale pressed the tablet with happy anticipation. “Favourite childhood memory. Oh dear."
Crowley sprawled back and gave him his full attention. He did so love watching the angel lie. Especially when he became flustered. Having to invent a childhood on the spot would do it. The amount of fluttering fingers and even more fluttering lashes should be quite beautiful.
“If it’s a painful subject—" said Nell, quickly, but Aziraphale smiled reassuringly at her.
“Not at all, dear. Just a long time ago.” Lie number one, or at least nearly so. “I think my most precious early memory, apart from my Mother, must be the first time I saw a supernova. I was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen—galactic dust and light in the darkness. They are the cradles of stars and the graves of stars, you know, and created by seraphim."
Crowley felt his breath catch in his throat.
“Do you really believe that, or is it poetry?” asked Nell.
“Is there a difference, dear?” Aziraphale asked. “Michael, Prince of the Seraphim, oversaw their creation, but it was Lucifer who became proud from it, and took other angels down with him.” He didn’t look sad at all, or regretful, just matter of fact. “In any case, I saw the birth of this nebula, and the angel that created it. I never would forget it."
Maybe I don’t have to sabotage Aziraphale's relationships with these people after all, Crowley thought wildly. Maybe he seems just weird enough that they will drop him themselves. But, of course, rich people are eccentric, not weird, and—oh, no. Aziraphale’s face was radiant and starry-eyed and half the faces turned to him were entranced and adoring. Bless everything to Heaven.
“What did the angel look like?” Of course Tristan was one of the entranced ones.
“Well, they were a seraph in their true form, dear, so there were a lot of wings and eyes and things,” Aziraphale said, looking at Tristan and not at Crowley, as if there was no particular reason to look at the demon. Perhaps, to him, there wasn’t. “A golden serpent, twisting in flame. I told myself I would recognise them if I saw them again."
“Did you?” Tristan breathed.
Aziraphale smiled sweetly. “That would be telling."
“Ngk.” Crowley fell even further back in his seat and closed his eyes.
“Oh, Anthony, are you all right?” Aziraphale asked. “Tristan, I’m sorry, I know it is still my turn, but I think I have to get him home. It’s been a long day, and he’s had a migraine."
“Of course, of course.” Tristan rose walked over, and clasped his hand, kissing his cheek. “Thank you for coming, and for the most beautiful story of the night."
“It was absolutely my pleasure,” Aziraphale said, returning the kiss. Then he dropped the hand and extended a hand to Crowley. “Come on, dearest, let’s get you home. Indulge in some sloth."
Crowley managed a weak smile and let himself be towed out, nodding at various farewells. The sky outside wasn’t entirely free of light pollution, none of this island was, but the stars were sharper than in London. He hesitated a little on the path, staring up at them, and Aziraphale waited beside him.
“Which nebula, angel?” His voice was a little hoarse.
Aziraphale gave a self-deprecating little smile. "M97, I believe. Not a very romantic name, sounds like a motorway. It went supernova about—"
“Ssix thousand years ago. Yess. Right before time sstarted properly, jusst before the first War.” He tried to control the hissing. "It wasn’t—it wasn’t a very impressive nebula."
“Really? I thought it was exquisite."
“All this time, and you decide to come out with it in front of the humans."
“Well, that’s the point of these games, isn’t it? To say things you wouldn’t say otherwise. That’s precisely why you invented them, to get people into trouble. In any case, I wasn’t sure. And it didn’t seem to matter anyway, none of that did. Sometimes I think nothing mattered before the Garden. This world really is glorious, isn’t it? And we contributed to saving it."
“Yeah.” He tried to regain his composure. “Did you have to kiss Tristan in front of your husband?"
“It would have seemed impolite not to. Was it out of place?"
“So long as it was just that. You’re a married man—as far as these humans are concerned.” Crowley finally turned to look at him. For all the angel’s face was usually as limpid as a stream, Crowley had no idea what he was feeling.
He thought, for just a moment, that he could reach out, and it would be all right. That this was the moment, and he could gather Aziraphale close and hold him tight and everything would be understood without words. He could almost feel what it would be like, that plump chest in the buttery cashmere, solid arms around him, fluffy hair tickling his nose. But what if he was wrong? There was too much to lose, so much more so than even a year ago, and he still believed his best chance was to convince Aziraphale to be the one to move closer. That was always the most successful approach, after all. Tempt, don’t force. Make it be his own choice.
Like spontaneous kisses goodnight on his lips and eyes.
He had been patient. Thousands of years to reach those kisses. He could outwait any humans. The feeling of urgency was just the result of what they had lately been through, those days when it seemed they had only hours to be together, but the future stretched long before them again. No reason to stuff it up by pleading with him to run away with him, or pressing too hard.
He turned away. “Get in the car, angel. We’re going home."
It was only as they pulled out that something twigged in his head. The party stank like sulphur. It hadn't been just a simile. Somewhere, under all the expensive cologne in the room and Azirphale's jasmine, there had been a whiff of the mixture of decay and sunshine on desert rocks that was brimstone. Of course, he carried a little of the stench around with himself, which made it hard to notice in the atmosphere, but he didn't go down Below all that much and this was... this was not just him. He was almost sure.
He clenched his hands on the steering wheel.
Chapter 6: You know this is how it should be
Aziraphale really isn't as concerned as Crowley about a possible demonic presence in the town. It's more important to figure out if kissing each other goodnight is going to become a tradition.
“You’re sure there was another demon there?"
Crowley’s brow was drawn. “I’m almost sure I smelled a diabolical presence that was not me. It could be human contact, I suppose, someone playing silly buggers with demon summoning. Didn’t you catch it? I thought angels could smell demons. You always seemed to be able to find me in a crowd."
Aziraphale sighed. “My dear, I don’t have your highly developed sense of smell, but there was a time when I could detect you or any demon a mile off by the brimstone. That hasn’t been true for at least eleven years. It’s become a sort of background noise. Well, scent. I’m afraid it’s seeped into everything I own. I’d probably miss it if I didn’t smell it for a while, that’s all."
“Ah.” Crowley’s mouth twitched, and Aziraphale wondered what he was thinking. “Well, that’s inconvenient.” He sighed. “Well, we can rule out Tristan. I was close to him long enough in that infernal game that I am pretty sure he is human. Just pure evil,” he added in a mutter.
“That’s not fair. He’s very kind and charming."
“He wears tartan, and plays party games."
“So do I."
“And you're the evilest being I know outside of Hell. Don’t think I’ve forgiven you yet."
“Do demons even forgive?” Aziraphale arched an eyebrow.
“Over and over, apparently. We’re just not supposed to.” Crowley pulled the Bentley up the drive and gave her a farewell pat on the steering wheel. Aziraphale was almost sure that if he wasn’t there, he would have wished her goodnight aloud.
“I suppose not. Forgiveness is divine, after all. Besides, I think tonight was rather a success,” Aziraphale said as he unlocked the front door. “I don’t think anyone would question we are a couple now. Although apparently you are whipped."
“Angel,” groaned Crowley. “I am going to hunt that prat down and destroy him. I will destroy his progeny unto the fifth generation, if he has any.” His cheeks were flaming.
“What does it mean, anyway?"
Crowley stared at him for a moment, flinging himself into, or rather onto, a chair, legs hooked over one arm. “Creamy and fluffy like whipped cream,” he said eventually. “Ridiculous. I mean, look at me.” He waved a hand at his tight black clothes.
“Ah. Well, that sounds rather lovely. I can see why a demon would see it as unbecoming, though.” Aziraphale seated himself rather more neatly in another chair.
“Aziraphale, do you have any idea at all how—“ Crowley bit the sentence off. “Never mind. Why would anyone doubt we are a couple, anyway? I mean, when you meet a married couple, ‘I wonder if they are just pretending because they are ancient adversaries posing as humans’ isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind."
“You think we were overdoing it?"
“No, no,” Crowley said quickly. “Just right."
“Good. Make me a cup of tea, dear?"
Crowley took off his glasses and stared at him with yellow eyes. “You know,” he said eventually, “Sometimes I really can’t tell if you are that innocent or if you are deliberately taking the piss."
“It’s only a cup of tea, my dear. You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Aziraphale said, a little hurt.
“I do not trust you, you and your guileless expressions,” Crowley said, getting up and going into the kitchen. “And I’m doing this because I want to, and because I want tea too.” He waved his hand on the way, and the fire blazed up in the hearth.
Aziraphale settled happily into his cosy armchair. It was nice to have someone to make him tea for a change, and the cottage seemed less big with Crowley there. More like home.
“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously,” Crowley said at last, coming back to hand him a cup of tea. “Angel, there was a presence of Hell there. I know you’ve never been entirely sensible about seeing demons as a threat, or I wouldn’t be here, but we are not all like Dagon and me."
Crowley rolled his eyes. “I mean, with a soft spot for you personally."
Aziraphale beamed. “That’s rather sweet.” He breathed in the steam. For all his grumbling, Crowley knew exactly how he liked his tea brewed. “They were a dear back in the old days."
“There is nothing sweet or dear about Dagon. You try missing filing a report by even a decade or so. See, that’s the problem. You need to take this seriously. The Rebellion wasn’t some minor misunderstanding that will all get sorted out someday when we all sit down and talk it over. Our sides are enemies."
“And yet, here we are. You’re the one who keeps telling me Hell isn’t an endless reservoir of evil."
“I am trying to keep you safe, you stupid angel!” The handle of the mug in Crowley’s hand cracked, and the sound split the tension. They both stared at it for a moment, then Crowley swore and the crack healed.
“My dear,” said Aziraphale gently, “I am entirely safe. I’ve been down here since the beginning. You don’t think you are the only demon I’ve encountered in all these thousands of years?"
The whites of Crowley’s eyes had almost vanished. “What? Who? Did they try to harm you? Or—"
“It doesn’t matter,” Aziraphale said quietly. He had no intention of setting Crowley off in some kind of protective rage that would get himself hurt or compromised. “No demon can enter any premises of mine without my knowledge and permission. I don’t sleep. I am as safe as it is possible to be, and I have no intention of being picked off by any demon who wants a commendation for taking out Earth’s oldest resident angel. Crowley, I have been doing this a very long time."
“I’ve been in the book shop without you. Just yesterday."
“The wards aren’t set up to repel you.” Aziraphale twinkled at him. Really, Crowley could be dense.
“Oh.” Crowley blinked. “Oh,” he said again.
“The main problem is that we can’t really claim to not know each other when we turned up hand in hand claiming to be married. I think we lost all deniable plausibility. But I also think making the Arrangement known would be a very, very bad mistake."
“So what do you think we do?” Crowley asked. He was still looking stunned.
Aziraphale shrugged. “My dear, when was the last time an angel Fell, if it isn’t a painful question?"
“More painful for you, I should think. Samyaza, Shamsiel and the other Watchers. About five thousand years ago, give or take. Uriel really went to town on them.” Crowley shivered.
“And the last time a Fallen angel was redeemed?"
“Never. Aziraphale, you aren’t trying to make me Ascend, are you? Because that won’t happen.” He glanced at his watch, and Aziraphale knew he was looking at the time in the 21st capital, somewhere else.
“As far as anyone from my side knows, I might be trying to save you. A noble, if futile effort. After all, if a demon showed signs of, and please do not lose your temper, good, wouldn’t it be a splendid opportunity to show the power of good?"
Crowley’s eyes were almost entirely black and gold. “And I might be trying to make you Fall, is that what you’re saying?"
Aziraphale finished his tea, put it down, and folded his hands. “Precisely. I think it is abundantly clear to both our Sides that we have gone native and might be… open to recruitment. What is the interesting phrase you used? A real feather in our wings. The original Serpent and the Earth’s oldest guardian.” He smiled. “Friendship and love are routes to both temptation and redemption, are they not?"
“Friendship and… oh. Yes. Acting married.” Crowley looked dizzy. “I—I have to think it over."
“Of course. We keep the balance, remember."
Crowley stood up, crossed the room, and took Aziraphale’s head in his hands. His mouth came down and brushed Aziraphale’s mouth, then lingered on each eyelid. His lips were cool, dry and soft, like being brushed by silk, and the general ready steadying pulse of affection he had felt from Crowley since Eden, the feeling that had made him trust him despite himself, had one of the moments of swelling up almost frighteningly bright and golden. The remnants of angelic nature, the ability to love.
“I’m going to bed. Aziraphale…” Crowley remained standing over him, hands on either side of Aziraphale’s face and looking close down into it, looking searchingly into his eyes, as if asking a question.
Aziraphale returned the gaze steadily, trying not to give in the temptation to look away. If he showed discomfort at the new tendernesses, the new intimacies, they might stop. They both knew perfectly well that this was not a usual goodnight between friends in this time and place, and there was no longer the excuse of apologising for past distances for the kiss. If he rejected the surge of affection, then Crowley would damp it down and drawback, as he always had.
It was ridiculous, sitting in a twenty-first century living room, being kissed on the lips and eyes by a demon as if they were intimates in Ancient Rome. It was even more ridiculous, asking a demon to pose as his husband at human social events. It was ridiculous, rebelling against Heaven and Hell to bring up the Antichrist together. It was ridiculous, being allies with a demon in the first place.
In the scheme of things, wanting a demon to fondly kiss him goodnight every evening wasn’t all that ridiculous at all.
“Sleep well, my dearest. You are safe here.” Aziraphale raised his hand and gently caressed the fingers on one side of his face. Then he slowly, deliberately raised his mouth to offer and receive a final kiss on the lips.
“So long as you keep yourself safe, too.” Crowley pulled his hands away and slouched up the stairs.
Aziraphale wondered if he should have told Crowley he knew quite well what the demonic presence in the town was, and that was partly why he had called him down. Of course, he had been quite truthful about the whole misunderstanding with Nell, but surely not even Crowley thought that was sufficient reason for such a ludicrous pretence.
Of course, Crowley never really needed much of a reason to deceive and cause chaos, and Aziraphale may have been relying on that a tiny bit. You couldn’t be around humans for so long without picking up just a little ability to pick and choose the truth.
Besides. He was pretty sure Crowley was enjoying playing at marriage. So perhaps it wasn’t all that wicked to be enjoying it himself.
“It’s all right,” Crowley said comfortingly, as he spun the steering wheel in front of the bakery. “I mean, it was an out of date kitchen anyway. I can get it done up properly. You can have a totally bespoke one to your exact tastes. Little gold angel wings, tartan wallpaper, shelves of cookbooks."
“If there had been books in it and they had burned, I would never speak to you again."
“You don’t mean that. Anyway, I know what I did wrong."
“Watching videos on your phone on cooking perfect eggs while the eggs are cooking, possibly."
“Be fair, I’m new to this whole perfect husband thing. I mean, look at literally every other demon husband in history, I don’t have a lot of positive role models, do I? Never any account of Asmodeus or Belphegor making breakfast. I’ll get there. At least I’m the best-looking husband in this town.” Crowley gave Aziraphale a sudden sidelong look. “Well, one of them."
Aziraphale felt his face heat, and he glanced away. “Don’t try to get away from it with flattery. You set my kitchen on fire."
“At least you remembered not to use holy water when you put it out."
“Believe me, I was tempted."
“Nasty,” Crowley said admiringly. “Come on, let’s get breakfast. We need to get home before my plants arrive. They will be stressed from the trip and need some encouragement to pull their bloody selves together."
“I hate to think.” Aziraphale realised they were sitting in the front seats of the Bentley, making no attempt to get out, looking half expectantly at each other, as if waiting for the other to lean in. There was no one on the street but them, and no reason to, but it felt as if--
He pecked Crowley on the cheek, then fumbled for the door handle.
“Yeah. Right. Okay,” said Crowley, and Aziraphale could feel the surge of affection floating around him as he headed for the bakery.
1) "This watch gave the time in twenty world capitals and in a capital city in Another Place, where it was always one time, and that was Too Late.” I love Crowley’s watch.
2) Asmodeus is obviously not Gabriel in this continuity.
Chapter 7: My suspicions lead me to the lie
"Zira is my favourite customer. I feel like he turns everything we serve into poetry."
The table turned as one to Aziraphale, who was taking a first delicate bite into a buttery eccles cake shining with sugar crystals, and he opened his eyes wide, as if surprised by the attention. A crumb of pastry fell to his chin, and Crowley brushed it off with his thumb.
“Zira,” Crowley said, “is poetry,” and then turned scarlet and stared hard at his plate. What the Heaven had possessed him to say that? Of course, Zira had been the muse to many a poet who had a sudden impulse to write about sunshine and the inherent goodness of the universe, but… seriously, a demon couldn’t go around saying things like that. It was so uncool as to be lukewarm.
The bakery was also Suffolk pink, with sweet little white shutters. He never should have ceded such a huge area to Aziraphale.
Crowley had been hoping that it would have little cosy intimate tables where he could watch Aziraphale eat brunch in peace. Instead there was only a big communal table. Like the Soho restaurant. It was almost as if Aziraphale was avoiding eating alone together. No, that was a stupid thought. They were living alone together. Aziraphale just liked being around people—and good food.
It was good food, better than Crowley expected in a tourist trap like this. There was a huge homemade marshmallow in Aziraphale’s hot chocolate, and the coffee was drinkable. Even not being alone couldn’t detract too much from the sheer pleasure of watching Aziraphale suck a half-melted marshmallow through his lips and then try to reduce it to a size that fit properly in his mouth, although it was harder to watch semi-discreetly when they were sitting side by side. Crowley drank his coffee and ate a salmon sandwich and watched Aziraphale devour french toast with maple syrup, bananas and bacon. It seemed like an utterly vile Americanised combination from where he was sitting, but watching Aziraphale swirl the bacon and sliced banana around in the syrup, eyes incandescent with anticipation, he put a note on his phone to learn how to make it.
Aziraphale knew everybody. Crowley allowed himself to be introduced around, not being able to remember which had been at the party last night. He looked suspiciously at them, trying not to stick his tongue out to test for brimstone. The roaring fire was confusing his sense a little.
He carefully guided Aziraphale to the end of the table and wedged himself between him and the other customers, hoping turning his back on them would create a kind of barrier. Aziraphale just smiled and leaned past him to talk to the brunchers and well, there was an expression in his face that was probably just acting, and it was silly to feel melted and nervous at Aziraphale’s apparent pride in saying “My husband, Anthony.” Of course, Crowley was a catch. Anyone would be proud to be associated with him.
“Zira is my favourite customer,” said the owner, Max. “I feel like he turns everything we serve into poetry."
The table turned as one to Aziraphale, who was taking a first delicate bite into a buttery eccles cake shining with sugar crystals, and he opened his eyes wide, as if surprised by the attention. A crumb of pastry fell to his chin, and Crowley brushed it off with his thumb.
“Zira,” Crowley said, “is poetry,” and then turned scarlet and stared hard at his plate. What the Heaven had possessed him to say that? Of course, Zira had been the muse to many a poet who had a sudden impulse to write about sunshine and the inherent goodness of the universe, but… seriously, a demon couldn’t go around saying things like that. It was so uncool as to be lukewarm.
“Oh, you are adorable, Anthony,” said one of the ladies from the party last night. Lilith. He was almost sure she wasn’t a demon, despite the name. Crowley wished he could check the air. Anything rather than giving into the temptation to look at Aziraphale to see his reaction. There was less movement from beside him than there usually was when Aziraphale was eating, and Crowley’s overactive imagination populated his friend’s face with everything from outrage to starry-eyed blushing. “Isn’t Zira lucky to have a romantic husband like that, Tristan?"
Crowley had vaguely registered the shop bell ringing in the back of his head. To him old fashioned shop bells were mostly things that caused a Pavlovian response of “We’re closed!” from the angel, so he tended to shut them out. Now he looked up in horror to see Tristan and Nell, and that his masterful manoeuvring to get between Aziraphale and he earlier customers meant that one of the two only open seats was next to Aziraphale.
“Extremely lucky,” said Tristan drily, swinging into the empty seat, folded newspaper in hand. “Surprised he lets him escape to London all the time. Good to see you again, Anthony, hope your head is better.” He was smiling genially with his mouth and looking coldly at Crowley with his brown eyes, which softened as he turned to Aziraphale. “Morning, Zira. Just the person I wanted to see. I’m having trouble with 19 down."
“Hello, Anthony dear,” Nell said more pleasantly, kissing his cheek and then Aziraphale’s, and then circling the table in a kind of group embrace en route to the other empty seat, across from Crowley. He concentrated on the kiss, and...
Yes. That was it. Nell, the friendly lady who had invited him over for Christmas, was the one with contact with Hell. He stared at her, glad his eyes were concealed, but—yes. That was a deliberate flicker of a smirk. One quite different from the usual gracious smile on her comely face. There was a twinkle in her pale blue eyes that was not at all kindly.
One infernal denizen acknowledging another.
So that was that. The only question remaining was if she knew what Aziraphale was, or was just gently warning Crowley that this was her territory. Bad manners, to step into another demon’s area of influence. Perhaps she just wanted him to leave, and that would give him an excuse to get Aziraphale out of this blessed picture postcard of a place.
“I am so looking forward to you boys visiting over Christmas,” Nell said genially. “Swear to me you won’t back out."
A challenge, then. He flung back his head, adrenaline racing. “It’s a pact."
She smiled, her face sweet again, then flicked her eyes to Crowley’s right. Where--
—Aziraphale was bent over Tristan’s crossword, heads close together.
“Trip is gay soul, five letters—oh, the first part’s an anagram. Spirit,” said Aziraphale, and Crowley was almost sure Nell sniggered. She must know about the angel, gay spirit was too perfect otherwise. "Oedipus did this to himself, and so did Narcissus? Seven letters."
“Desired,” Tristan breathed, and Crowley tasted fire in his mouth. "Holiday season lacks initial direction for plant?"
“Oh, that reminds me.” Crowley pushed himself up from the table, putting a firm hand around Aziraphale’s arm and pulling him awkwardly up too. “My houseplants are coming home for Christmas, and they will be arriving any minute. So nice seeing you all."
“Aster?” suggested Nell. “Oh, do invite me over to see the plants, Anthony. I haven’t seen your lovely home yet."
Aziraphale opened his mouth to invite her, and Crowley, panicking, dug his fingers into the angel’s arm before he could invite a demon across their threshold. “Some time soon,” Crowley said firmly. “I’m still settling my things in. But perhaps,” he added thoughtfully, “we could meet up for coffee some time soon. Just you and me. I’d like to get to know you better."
She smiled, and there was definitely a challenge in it. Just for a moment, she showed him teeth that were sharper than the human norm.
“I’m looking forward to it. Here, Tristan, let me have a go.” She reached across and read, “Returned friends makeup, four letters."
“Pals?” Crowley asked. After all, she had just warned him about Aziraphale and Tristan.
Nell grinned toothily. “That’s right. Pals."
Aziraphale didn’t kiss Tristan goodbye this time, maybe that was just a party thing, but he beamed fondly all around and gave promises to meet up again and Crowley had to half drag him out of the bakery, buying rhubarb donuts to placate him
Crowley fully expected to be reprimanded for his rudeness. It seemed Aziraphale took it for granted that he would be discourteous and never make it to the end of a social occasion, though, because when they were seated in the Bentley he just smiled fondly and patted Crowley’s knee.
“Thank you for making an effort to befriend Nell, dear."
“Nell,” said Crowley as the car screeched backwards into the middle of the road and then forwards, “is a bloody demon."
“She’s very pleasant."
“Literally a demon. And she recognises me as one, too."
The expected protest never came. Aziraphale was quiet. When Crowley checked on him, he was biting his lip and looking guilty.
“Oh, no. Don’t tell me.” Crowley spun the wheel and the Bentley came to a stop. “Aziraphale."
“Well, I did suspect a little. It’s not like I don’t spend a lot of time in an infernal presence. I miss it when it’s not there, I told you."
“Angel, how could you put yourself in danger like that?"
“I’m not entirely reckless. I have no intention of inviting her to the cottage. And—I invited you down here.” Aziraphale's eyelids shivered, looking down at his entwined hands. “To see what you thought, and if necessary to protect me."
“Don’t give me that rubbish,” said Crowley, ignoring the way the fluttering lashes made his own treacherous heart fluter. "You could have protected yourself by staying in London."
“But she knows about the bookshop, my dearest. If she suspects I’m an angel, she would have no trouble finding me. This way, she knows I’m in another demon’s sphere of interest."
“You manipulative bastard,” Crowley said, suddenly feeling very tired. “So she’s never even seen the picture on the mantlepiece."
“She saw it in my wallet. But I’ve never actually invited anyone back. It’s nice to have a sanctuary where I can be alone. No customers."
“Excuse me for invading your sanctuary."
“You’re different, Crowley, you know that.” Aziraphale’s hand was on his knee, giving it a quick squeeze. “You’ve earned the right to belong.” Crowley stared at the hand resting on his thigh, and swore under his breath, pulling the Bentley back onto the road.
He didn’t, however, knock it off.
The moving van pulled up just as they did—infernal timing. The plants seemed a little anxious and wilting from the trip, and in need of some good stern encouragement to stop being self indulgent and pull themselves together. Besides, Crowley really, really needed to yell at something, and it would probably be better if it was not his husband.
He raised a warning eyebrow at Aziraphale, who tended to hamper his style when plant parenting. The angel took the hint and wandered off into the garden, mug of tea in hand.
Crowley had also sent for his espresso machine, his television, his computer and his stereo to make his life buried in the country a bit more bearable. He was just self aware enough to realise that the rest of his furniture already looked slightly ridiculous in an industrial chic flat, and would make the angel snigger in this place. The Mona Lisa cartoon was irrevocably associated with melted demons, and the only other things he had much affection for were his angel and demon sculpture, which was best saved for if he really wanted to embarrass Aziraphale in front of company, and the eagle plinth, the memory of which he blushed at.
He settled into arranging his plants in the conservatory, letting them know what would happen if they didn’t perk up immediately. Plenty of nurseries around here to replace them, he reminded them, if they disappointed him. He gave them all a light spray to settle them and restore them a bit after their scolding, and felt satisfied. At home.
No. No, this could not possibly be home. He couldn’t be nesting in this camp atrocity of a pink house. The country was boring. Not that he’d been bored yet, but this was only his third day, and there was a demon lurking around and the whole thing with Aziraphale.
He hadn’t shared living quarters with Aziraphale since… When had it been? The Kingdom of Aksum. Fourth century, he thought. Aziraphale had been sent to act like an actual Principality back then, tutoring the young prince and guiding him as a future ruler, while Crowley undermined as much as he could. It had been a bit of a dry run for failing to raise the Antichrist later on, except that when Crowley arrived in Ethiopia, the two of them had been mistaken for brothers due to their fair skin and had just gone with it, sharing quarters at the palace. It had been blissful torture, with Aziraphale wandering domestically and temptingly around their rooms. The low slung skirts and bare torsos in fashion at the time had suited him gloriously. Even now, eighteen centuries later, Crowley could remember with perfect clarity the way the plush layer of flesh over Aziraphale’s shoulder blades had looked under a faint lustre of perspiration, the squeezable softness of his waist and hips, the rounded calves over his bare feet. Twenty first century Aziraphale wore far too many layers.
But there had been no hand holding and tender kisses good night. Both he and Aziraphale had kissed human intimates three times on the cheek in greeting, but not each other, even though they were ostensibly brothers. Crowley had certainly never dared to reach for his lips.
Crowley curled up under his plants, bringing his knees in close to him, and shivered, thinking of the kisses on his eyes and mouth. Dangerous to let go of his righteous, well, unrighteous fury with the angel. Dangerous to let desire surge like that, and risk scaring the angel off again. But Aziraphale… Aziraphale hadn’t had to kiss him good night, or at the party, either. Hadn’t had to kiss him just then outside the bakery. Surely, surely it wasn’t just reciprocal teasing that was making the angel so free with caresses. Surely Crowley wasn’t imagining that the tenderness and longing and just plain joy at being together like this was mutual.
He was an idiot. This game was supposed to make Aziraphale realise he couldn’t do without his demon, not send Crowley into desperate hopeful longing. He needed to figure out what Nell was doing and if Aziraphale was in danger. Then to focus on making himself so essential to Aziraphale that, when Crowley went back to London after Christmas, the angel would naturally come along and things would go back to normal. Anything else was a bonus.
His brain caught up suddenly. Aziraphale had a picture of him and the Bentley in his wallet? As in, carried around with him?
Where was Aziraphale, thinking of that? Crowley hadn’t heard him come in, and it had been ages. Surely Aziraphale, knowing there was a demon on the loose, would not leave the cottage grounds alone.
He felt for the angel’s presence. He was nowhere nearby.
1) Cryptic crossword clues stolen from anonymous comments on Quora plus a
article on Cryptic Crosswords for Beginners. If you’re as bad at them as me, here’s some hints—“slap” is makeup, Easter is a holiday, “Trip is” is an anagram for spirit, and Oedipus killed his sire.
2) Yes, the presence of all that occult energy in the room changed the crossword clues.
3) Sorry I've been a little slow (for me, at least) with updates, I've been trying to keep up with daily one-shots Ineffable Husbands Week plus working on fics for Iddy Iddy Bang Bang and the Good Omens Big Bang. Hope finding out the demon was worth the wait. (I think most of you had guessed it, in any case!)
4) As usual, the bakery (and menu) are based on a real place, in Suffolk but not necessarily in the village I have mentally placed them in.
5) Prompt fill was "betrayal", and the idea is that the crossword is betraying what is really going on. This is a clue to later chapters, too. ;)
Chapter 8: Confide in me
The denizens of the village declare their hands--to a certain extent. This should probably have been an Aziraphale chapter, but we're staying in the POV of the lovesick snake for this chapter.
Crowley checked the front garden, and there was no angel. Next was all the land behind, which presumably was part of Aziraphale’s marked-off ground. If Aziraphale was there, he was safe. Crowley made his way down a lane, long-dead leaves crunching under his feet. These bloody rhododendrons, even in late autumn there was no visibility.
No need to panic, Crowley told himself. The demon had revealed herself. That was fine.
Aziraphale, of all angels, was used to demons. Back in the old days, before everyone in Hell got so damn lazy—except for Crowley, of course, a hard worker and always had been, had he commendations to show for it—lower-ranking demons used to regularly take potshots at the sweet, dithering angel who had easy target written on him in big runes. Most of them had ended up in ethereal restraints being earnestly told the error of their ways. Subjected to Aziraphale’s kind scolding that while of course tempting the humans was very important work and all the Almighty’s will, he couldn’t possibly allow them to disrupt his own business, most slunk back to Hell in cowed disgrace.
Disgrace, that was key. Demons had the advantage of sneakiness and brutality. Aziraphale, though, had learned sneakiness and imagination from humans, had centuries of reading works on demonology and illuminating chats with a demonic best friend, and on top of that, was in a state of Grace. Demons shouldn’t really have a chance against him.
Only a couple had required Crowley carefully discorporating them in ways that couldn’t cause any awkward questions.
Over the millennia, Aziraphale had stopped being seen as an easy target, and become somewhat of a legend. Earth’s oldest celestial resident, the one who kept even the infamous serpent Crowley in check, and was to all appearances invincible.
The problem was that a lot of that depended on the forces of Hell not knowing about the Arrangement. And that protection, Crowley suspected, was blown to bits. It shouldn’t take long to go from “They united to stop the Apocalypse together” to “Hey, how long had they been working together anyway?” to “Maybe he’s not so much invincible as compromised.” They had known that, they had used it as an excuse to be more open in spending time together, and hadn’t thought about whether it made Aziraphale vulnerable.
Well, there were two ways it could go, assuming Nell didn’t intend to actually kill him, in which case she probably would have made a move by now. Aziraphale really wouldn’t like Falling. Nor would he like having his forgiving nature taken advantage of to punish Crowley for his betrayal.
Crowley cursed and picked up his pace as he moved down the garden, his tongue flickering out to taste the air over and over. And there—that scent was the clean, lovely, warm scent of Aziraphale.
He rounded the corner around some bushes, and saw Aziraphale sitting on a bench, book on his lap, chatting to Nell—who was in the lane on the fence on the other side. Not on the property. But of course, if wards were up, she would sense them.
She hailed him happily. “Afternoon, Anthony. I brought you a house warming gift.” She smiled at him, all pink and white and rounded middle-aged softness, which was a combination that might have softened him if she wasn’t a strange demon hanging around *his* angel. “A snake plant. I heard you like houseplants, and I thought it would suit you."
Crowley didn’t believe in coincidence, not with the occult. She was playing fair, at least. He reached out across the fence, and took it. “Thanks. It looks like it could do with a stricter upbringing. I’ll be sure to provide it."
“How pretty! That’s very kind of you,” Aziraphale said, beaming. He gave Crowley a look that said, look, see, maybe you’re not the only nice demon around here.
“Oh, I never do things without ulterior motives.” Nell winked at him. “Anthony, did you realise your husband is a literal angel?"
He slid closer and dropped a protective arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders, on pure instinct, although he trusted that she couldn’t come in. “It’s hardly something I could miss.” Better not to seem incompetent, at least. Maybe he could carry it off as some grand angel corrupting plan, he thought desperately.
“I look forward to seeing the two of you together a lot,” she said cheerfully. “I won’t ask to come in. I’m sure, after being separated so long, you’d like some alone time."
“I’ll see you soon, Nell,” Aziraphale said.
“I’m sure you will. I’m not giving up on our dates! Bring that handsome lad of yours next time.”
Crowley, who felt he was quite handsome but had never once in his existence looked like a lad, frowned at her and didn’t reply, as she went up the lane toward the village.
“A snake plant. Hardly subtle, but then she is a demon, I suppose. What do you think she’s up to?” Aziraphale asked.
“Perhaps she’s just curious,” Crowley said, although he wasn’t sure. “She mustn’t get many angels settling in her village, and if she recognised me in the photo, well—she probably knows who we both are. And then she’ll definitely be curious. We couldn’t expect to avoid detection forever.” He sighed. “Look, angel, I was planning to take you antiques shopping in Long Melford tomorrow anyway, and I have a list of restaurants to try out as long as your arm. Lots of places I can take you now we’ve got the Bentley. We’ll stay out of the way for a while, see if she makes a move."
“You were planning on taking me shopping and to dinner?” Aziraphale wriggled a bit, and Crowley realised he still had his arm over his shoulders and a crushing grip on one of them. He relaxed his grip, but left his arm, and sat beside him. It wasn’t that different to all the times they had sat side by side on other benches, he reasoned, although his heart was suddenly hammering. It would be rude to drop the embrace too quickly.
“Well, I figured you must be bored out here with no transport,” Crowley said, trying to sound casual and not at all like he’d stayed up half the night looking for places to take Aziraphale that he would enjoy and realise how tremendously much fun spending every day with him was.
“That’s very—“ Aziraphale managed to tactfully bite back whatever he was about to say. “In the spirit of the Arrangement.” His gaze slid sideways to Crowley’s face, without moving his head, and then back, and then he turned towards him. Those eyes that could be all the shades of water in the world were grey like storm-tossed oceans right now and Crowley was intensely conscious of his arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders and how he could feel his warmth through his cardigan, and how close their faces were.
All he had to do was lean a little closer, tilt his head a little to the side, and their mouths would meet. It wasn’t as if Aziraphale wasn’t already kissing him goodnight, surely he would be amenable to a light, casual kiss to convey that his wordless thanks were accepted. And possibly, if Aziraphale cared to notice, it could also be conveyed that Aziraphale was adored beyond all measure, that he was the most gloriously sexy being in existence, that he had an almost as sexy demon doting on him, and there were no less than six beds upstairs and four couches downstairs, he could take his pick.
That might be trying to pack too much meaning into a peck on the lips, really. But Crowley was an optimist. Aziraphale nervously caught his lower lip in his own teeth, and Crowley sighed in anticipation, leaning in.
“How charming. Spooning like teenagers."
Only one person in the village could be enough of a bastard to interrupt at that moment. Crowley turned and glared at Tristan, who was watching them with a bland smile.
Aziraphale, blessedly, looked put out, and his greeting was very slightly less than effusive, which for Aziraphale was tantamount to telling Tristan to fuck off. Crowley desperately wanted to analyse Aziraphale's annoyance. He wondered if he could wave his hand and send Tristan somewhere and get back to obsessively dissecting Aziraphale’s reactions and, hopefully, kissing.
It might make Aziraphale irate with him, though and that wasn’t the moment for this.
“Oh, don’t let me interrupt,” Tristan smiled, the light glinting off his smooth mahogany skin and making a stray white hair or two in his curls glimmer. “Although one day you will need to tell me how a black-hearted demon like you, Crowley, managed to win the heart of someone like Zira.” His tone was teasing, but the beautiful dark eyes were cold.
Crowley tried not to react visibly, and he could feel Aziraphale’s expression settle into the blank expression he used when he wasn’t sure of the situation. “Well, you know, bad boys have their appeal,” Crowley said and scrunched his nose.
“I’m afraid so. Well, I was only dropping by in passing. I have a housewarming gift for you, Anthony."
“Seems quite a day for that."
“Well. Whatever they tell you of country villages, here we like to make newcomers feel welcome. Zira could tell you that." Tristan stepped forward, through what Crowley presumed was the anti-demon barrier, without a flinch. “Here. It seems remarkably appropriate for you right at the moment.” He took a parcel, wrapped in black tissue paper and tied with a red bow, out of his lap and dropped it on Crowley’s lap. Then he waved at them both and strode off.
Crowley glared after him until he was out of sight, his arm tight around Aziraphale again.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Aziraphale asked at last.
It seemed a bit pathetic to say he couldn’t open it because that would involve moving his arm off Aziraphale's shoulders. Crowley blushed and let go, untying the ribbon, already having a bad feeling about the colour scheme. He felt like there would be terrible secrets in the box, some terrible trap.
“Just mini meringues?” he said, puzzled. “What, did he poison them or something?” They were pretty little things, sparkling with edible glitter, and seemed unlikely as a gift from Tristan to himself. Maybe for Aziraphale. Or maybe it was just a message of contempt, dismissing him as pretty and without substance. Or maybe Tristan liked to bake, of course he would, the scurvy Aziraphale-bait that he was, and Crowley was just over analysing it. He lifted one to his mouth and flickered out his tongue to taste it.
“That’s one of their names.” Aziraphale’s face was creased with worry. “The other is angel kisses."
Crowley had insisted on going several towns over for dinner, just in case any Uber delivery drivers also turned out to be denizens of Hell or whatever in Existence Tristan was. He chose a hotel he had picked out as being the kind of place that would help Aziraphale relax, all crisp white tablecloths, flowers and French cuisine, with a roaring fire for himself. Time on his phone instead of sleeping well spent.
“Tristan's not a demon,” he said again, over the last bites of roast pheasant accompanied by a quite reasonable burgundy. “I held his hand for that bloody game. I didn’t do it for fun, you know. He’s not a demon."
“I agree,” Aziraphale said. “or my own powers are really slipping. My wards are intact, and he crossed them. I didn’t feel a thing."
“So what the Hell or otherwise is he?"
Aziraphale hesitated. “He could be a witch with actual magic powers. Haven’t known of any real ones around rather than people playing with crystals and essential oils for ages, but that young lady in Tadfield did have some abilities, and so did Madam Tracey, however underexploited. Or he could possibly be an angel."
“How can you not be sure? Aren’t you supposed to feel waves of love emanating from fellow creatures of love, or something?” Crowley asked sourly. In his experience, Aziraphale wasn’t as good at that kind of thing as he pretended to be, unless there was some rule about demons.
“Don’t tell me.” Crowley groaned and leaned his head in his hand.
“I may have mistaken it as something more personal than one angel’s natural goodwill for another."
“I can’t leave you alone at all, can I?"
“I don’t know what that is supposed to mean, dear boy."
Crowley drained his glass and gestured for more. He could sulk and snark and glower, or he could remember how close they were getting, and try not to spoil it. All his instincts were for the first, but then he remembered soft warm lips on his eyelids and decided to try to act like an adult demon for once, not that there were any adolescent demons. “Well, I can’t blame Tristan. Very glad to hear my opinion backed by a competent authority,” he said, which was both a deliberate compliment and a moment of look, I remember those stupid comic operas you dragged me to, see what a wonderful husband I am.
Aziraphale went from pink to scarlet, and pleasure and nervousness flickered across his face. Crowley smirked, proud of himself, and ordered him some chocolate terrine.
“So what are they up to, and are they a threat?"
Aziraphale fastidiously patted his lips in the way that tended to turn Crowley’s insides to melted ice cream. “Probably asking the same question about us. I mean, think about it. They’ve both been living here for at least twenty years—I gathered Nell at least claims to have a family that has always lived here, although Tristan mentioned his family being from the Caribbean. Here they are, all settled in a small village, and an angel moves in."
“And then so does his demon husband,” Crowley said slowly. “What are the chances?"
“If this isn’t a trap, then they’re probably far more frightened than we are,” Aziraphale said sympathetically. “What if they retired together? Our superiors already know we are on friendly terms, even if I hope they don’t understand the practicalities of the Arrangement. The poor things must be very nervous. We’re probably worrying about nothing."
“Nervous people are dangerous, angel,” said Crowley. “Nervous humans burn witches and perform exorcisms. Nervous immortal beings with access to things like holy water and hellfire… Anyway, I don’t buy it. There are hundreds of houses you could have bought. You just coincidentally moved into an occult hotspot?"
Aziraphale bridled. “I assure you I am not deceiving you. I had no ulterior motivations in moving here,” he said coldly.
Crowley sipped his drink to hide his mouth. “I trust you,” he said eventually, which seemed to work, because the clouds passed from Aziraphale’s eyes and they were suddenly as blue and gentle as a clear autumn sky. “I just don’t trust anyone else. Someone is playing funny buggers here, and it’s not me. Yet."
He made a sudden decision. “Angel, I’ve drunk too much.” He gulped down the rest of his glass to emphasise his point. “Couldn’t possibly drive home. The Bentley would disapprove so much she’d play Killer Queen all the way home, and you know how I hate disappointing her."
“You could sober up."
“What, and scare the life out of the staff? No, I think we need to stay here for the night and only go back in the daytime when we’ve solidified our plans. They have rooms. Well, a room,” said Crowley, who felt the night was getting better already and was going to personally make sure all the other rooms were booked out.
Aziraphale agreed with a lack of argument that made Crowley a bit suspicious. The room was a good room, Crowley thought, very Aziraphale. It was a little disappointing that there was a large leather armchair for Aziraphale to read in and no excuse to convince him to come read in the four-poster bed where accidental cuddles might happen, but at least he would be comfortable. And safe in the same room, where Crowley was ready to face down anyone who came for his angel.
He was feeling relatively relaxed until he checked out the bathroom, and found himself surrounded by eyes and mouths staring at him from every direction. Terror seized him. He also hyperventilated until he remembered he didn’t need to breathe and that he was not, actually, back in Heaven before the Fall, thank Lucifer.
He slammed the door behind himself and flung himself on the bed.
“Dearest, whatever’s wrong?"
The endearment cut through his shock a little, as did the hand rubbing small circles on his shoulder. He reached out and covered it with his own.
“Is this some kind of a trap? Who the fuck chooses wallpaper like that?"
1) My wife assures me that the gavotte in the show is not just any gavotte, it is the specific one from The Gondoliers, so I assume the Savoy Operas are Aziraphale’s cup of Darjeeling. I’d assume it anyway. And Crowley would at least have enjoyed the scandal caused by the lyrics of some of the songs in the Japanese Opera he references.
2) It’s a real hotel in the Suffolk South Downs (are you surprised? I like to use real locations, menus etc to make sure my descriptions make sense), and yes, one of the bathrooms has terrifying wallpaper. It’s a fourteenth-century building, and I was flipping through the pictures with their open beams and fires and armchairs and tasteful cosiness, and I hit one of the bathrooms and was all what the fuck is THAT? Followed by, wow, that seems custom-designed to give a fallen angel the heeby jeebies. EYES. SO MANY EYES.
Chapter 9: I lose it every time I'm close to you
Crowley nodded and relaxed, dignity restored, and opened his mouth to say something snarky that would dismiss the entire event and go back to normal, just like they always did when they accidentally touched on anything painful before the whole Antichrist thing, and—actually, f—bother that.
Aziraphale managed not to laugh, mostly because Crowley really had suffered a shock, poor dear boy, and Aziraphale could imagine only too well what it had been like to be surrounded by angry angels in their less than human forms while being cast out, glared at with a million eyes.
Aziraphale didn’t like to think of the War in Heaven much himself; in retrospect it had been a relief that the Almighty had sensibly given neither side the ability to deliver killing blows to the other, hellfire not having been invented yet and holy water not working on even rebellious angels, but they had known how to inflict pain. He was a soldier, of course, and casting his siblings down from Heaven with lightning had been all part of the job, which didn’t make it any nicer. All that eternal suffering when if everyone had been sensible and talked it over they could have come to some kind of agreement and been perfectly happy. Also, Prince Lucifer in dragon form had been somewhat alarming.
It must have been ineffably worse on the losing side.
He circled his fingers on Crowley’s back until the demon’s breath and heartbeat slowed, then went to inspect the bathroom. The vintage facial parts collage was hideous, and all those disembodied eyes must have been been dreadful out of the blue, but it was tacky more than anything. He knew that if Crowley looked again, he would feel silly. He closed the door and went back to the bed.
Crowley was sitting up and lounging in a theatrically nonchalant way that suggested he was profoundly embarrassed, glasses back on his eyes.
“That wallpaper,” said Aziraphale, “shows a severe lack of taste. I’m glad I don’t actually have to use a human loo, because that would be disturbing."
Crowley nodded and relaxed, dignity restored, and opened his mouth to say something snarky that would dismiss the entire event and go back to normal, just like they always did when they accidentally touched on anything painful before the whole Antichrist thing, and—actually, f—bother that.
Aziraphale sat beside Crowley, put an arm around his waist, and said, “Whether you want to talk or not, I’m here."
Crowley croaked, and then tried speech again. “What has got into you, angel? You are actually trying to destroy me with sweetness, is that it?"
“I didn’t mean to cramp your demonic style,” Aziraphale said coldly. He was about to get up, but an arm snaked around his chest and a face was pressed against his shoulder.
“I won’t,” he managed to say, and let his other arm drift around a thin back. “Not unless you want me to."
“I don’t want to talk about those days. It was bad, but I didn’t think about the consequences and I stuffed up, and anyway I fit into Heaven even less well than you do. Don’t want to be an angel, don’t want to be mortal, demon is the most fun option. I want—“ Crowley’s voice croaked again, and started again more hoarsely, "to talk about this. Because in six thousand years, this has never happened. We’ve both been upset plenty of times, and this,” his other arm came around Aziraphale’s back and light fingers traced shapes at the base of his spine in a way that sent melting sensations through Aziraphale that seemed completely out of proportion with the actual touch, “has never once happened."
“It never would have seemed—“ Safe. Heaven would be miffed. Hell would punish. Crowley would angrily reject any sign of tenderness and niceness and crush Aziraphale’s soul to pulp. “Proper. But we don’t really know what the rules are any more, and—well. This is nice.” And he’d said it, the dangerous word.
“Nice,” Crowley said, with bitterness, and Aziraphale felt regret and began to edge away again. The arms around him tightened. “You said you wouldn’t move unless I wanted you to, angel.” There was an urgency in his voice that made Aziraphale shiver. “I don’t want you to move,” he added carefully. “It’s—nice.” He got the word out with difficulty. “But it’s not us. We don’t hug. Except apparently now we do."
“No much sense pretending we don’t know each other any more after Tadfield, is it?"
“Is that all that’s changed, angel?”
Sometimes, very rarely, Crowley could sound both vulnerable and caressing and that was, Aziraphale knew, when he could be at his most dangerous. A snarling Crowley or a sarcastic one was a safe one, a Crowley it was possible to remember was the Enemy. There were other tones that signalled danger. When Crowley sounded reasonable or pleading or cajoling, the was when Aziraphale had been tempted into crossing lines over and over and over: just talk to this fiend, just let his questions enter your head, just agree not to get in each other’s way, just have lunch, just some drinks, just talk more about this thing you said you wouldn’t talk about, just look after this kid. Just let your loyalties drift a little more away from Heaven, towards this dear boy who seems to understand you so much better than your own side and who enjoys Earthly life as much as you do. Aziraphale was aware he was bad at resisting that tone, and in the guilty corners of his soul aware that most of the time he didn’t even want to. But at least he was aware that it went with fiendish temptation.
Then there was this voice. This voice seemed incapable of belonging to anyone evil, and even if Aziraphale tried to remind himself that a demon was by definition evil and harmful, there was the treacherous whisper except to me. He’d never harm me. He cares about me, and I’m the one who could harm him, he is so alone, and no one truly cares for him but me. The whisper in his head that said We’re all God’s creatures, even if some of us lost our way, and creatures capable of love, and Crowley…
The whisper in his head that spoke of yearning, that usually spoke only when alone.
Crowley released the arm around Aziraphale’s chest, and Aziraphale felt a miserable combination of disappointment and relief until he realised Crowley was removing his glasses again, which also felt like a danger sign. There it was, liquid yellow eyes looking into his and mouth gentle around the corners as Crowley shifted on the bed to face him, arm still around his back, half on his lap. Aziraphale had promised not to move. The weight of his promise felt--
It felt like a six-foot snake coiled around his shoulders, that he really didn’t want to push off, even if he could, because the weight and feeling of being surrounded felt wonderful.
Crowley laid a hand on the side of Aziraphale’s face and it would be easy, so easy, to close his eyes and lean into it and trust.
“We’re pretending to be married. That’s the agreement."
It had the intended effect. The liquid eyes hardened, spat fire and venom. But only for a moment. Crowley took a deep breath, and his expression softened again. The hand on Aziraphale’s cheek slid around to the nape of his neck.
“Do you think I’d agree to that only to save you from embarrassment, angel? You trust me too much, for all your protestations.” There was no hint of a mocking smile, only a searching expression, trying to read his own as Aziraphale sat stiffly but remained in the embrace. “Does the ruse require that when we are alone, we kiss goodnight?"
“I thought you understood. It was to make up for--"
“We have a lot to make up for, angel. But tell me,” and now his voice was light and teasing and tempting again, which was oddly disappointing, as if Crowley had withdrawn somehow despite their proximity. “Are you having as much fun as I am?"
The corner of Aziraphale’s mouth lifted despite itself, as he thought of dragging a sulky demon around to glower his way through parties and crossword brunches, and the Almighty help him, a chuckle made its way up through his chest and throat and out his mouth. “You mean, do I enjoy having a whipped cream demon?"
“Good thing I can’t imagine being married to anyone who isn’t a bastard."
“Good thing I like whipped cream,” managed Aziraphale.
“I am neither sweet nor soft—but rich, I’ll give you that. I need to be, to keep up with your extravagances. I hope the humans realise you are a kept man."
Aziraphale couldn’t risk saying that Crowley seemed both sweet and soft right now. Instead, he said, “Nonsense. Heaven pays well, and my investments make plenty of money."
“Despite the bookshop."
"Aziraphale,” and Crowley's voice was dangerous in a different way now, low and throaty. His eyelids were heavy over his eyes, his pupils dilating to fill the yellow, less human by the heartbeat. “That was almost the right question. Do you, my most angelic angel, enjoy pretending to have a demon?” A deep breath. Aziraphale could feel the exhalation on his lips. “Do you want to have a demon?” Fingers curled into the nape of Aziraphale’s neck.
“Ah.” He swallowed hard. “That’s a complicated question."
“It doesn’t have to be.” Finally lips on his own, cool and gentle, not pushing, not demanding, tender and affectionate. Aziraphale closed his eyes, and felt the lips move to each eyelid, soft and tender, and maybe with the faintest flicker of a snakelike tongue. Then the tantalising tickle of lips as Crowley quoted, going from one eye to another, “If I could play at kissing your honeyed eyes as often as I wish to, three hundred thousand games would not exhaust me.”
It hardly felt real, it felt like an embarrassing shameful fantasy on a lonely night that would need to be repressed firmly down to avoid embarrassment later on, too sweet to be real. “Oh, angel, I ask you again, do you want to have me?” Crowley leaned his forehead against his. “Tell me this is okay. Tell me to stop, or to keep going, or to slow down, just tell me."
Crowley’s phone began to ring to the tune of the Danse Macabre, making Aziraphale jump. Crowley didn’t move. “Ignore it. No one important has that number but you, and if you were calling it would be playing—something else."
Aziraphale took a deep, shuddering breath.
“I know you’re there, you swish snake.” The voice was tinny through the phone speaker. "Pick up, or I’m coming to get you."
Crowley said obscene words in several ancient languages, finishing with a very English “Fucking wanker,” slid off Aziraphale’s lap and picked up his phone.
“Hey, Dagon, what can I do for you?” His voice was back to a lazy drawl. “What? Oh, Hail Satan. Yeah, you know me, hardest worker on the books. Which vice? Tempting to lust right now.” He winked at Aziraphale, and it was like a bucket of dead fish had just been emptied over the angel’s head. “Yeah, right, I know I haven’t been reporting in, but—tomorrow. All right. Full report tomorrow. I’ll email an account of my activities."
He put down the phone and turned back to Aziraphale. “Now, angel, where were we?"
“Did you really have to explain to me that it wasn’t me on the phone because of the ring tone?"
Crowley blinked. “That’s what you want to talk about?"
“No, perhaps we should talk about the vices you are reporting in. What did you say at Tristan’s? You were thinking of going in more for luxuria and fornicatio these days?”
“Aziraphale for—for—“ Crowley ran his hand through his hair. “Do you really think that is what this is about?” He spread his arms wide by his side, pleading. “Angel."
“No, I don’t,” Aziraphale said in a small voice. “But we need to think about that anyway."
“Because you’re afraid—"
“Because Nell is a demon, and Tristan might be an angel.” Aziraphale sighed, trying to organise his thoughts, which was hard, because he was still aching, because and Crowley’s eyes were still gold and dilated and his expression looked desperate. “If they are still trying to figure out what our game is, well, you’re probably all right as long as you don’t admit to any, well—“ He wanted to say love, was afraid to presume. “Softer affections. If it’s me, though, if it might go to my superiors, isn’t it better if when Tristan asks a certain question, I will be able to say no?"
Crowley shifted his weight from foot to foot, giving the impression that he wanted to circle, and was thwarted by furniture. “I suppose we couldn’t just say we’re married so it's okay? I suppose we couldn’t just—“ He bit down on whatever he was going to say. “I fucking hate Tristan. I mean, though, would he care? He’s the fruitiest angel I’ve met bar you, and I’ve met some fruity angels."
“He knows you’re a demon."
“It always comes back to that. Fuck fuck fuck fuck.” Crowley flung himself on the bed, hands clutching his temples. “All right. We find a cover story, we figure out what the Heaven and Hell those two are doing, we neutralise them."
“Nothing violent, my dear."
“There’s more to demonic schemes than violence, angel,” Crowley said darkly. “Just tell me one thing. If FIshbreath hadn’t picked that moment to call, would you have said yes?” He stared at the ceiling, as if afraid to make eye contact.
“I don’t know,” Aziraphale said honestly, his heart aching.
Unexpectedly, Crowley grinned. “Well, that’s further than I expected to get even a year ago. I’ll take it.” He reached out and took Aziraphale’s hand, kissed the back of it. “I suppose I can’t tempt you to share the bed chastely?"
“I don’t think that would be the best idea."
“Probably not.” Crowley rolled over to look at him, and where Aziraphale expected resentment and anger, there was warmth and a fond smile. “At least kiss me goodnight."
Aziraphale leaned over and carefully kissed him, lips, eye, eye, lips, and then got up. “Goodnight, dearest,” he said, and took his place in the chair.
1) From Castellus’ poem 48, to the youth Juventius. I'm sure in my head that at some point after the oyster dinner Crowley was drunkenly reciting Castellus' nicer--and possibly most bitter--poems to Lesbia and Juventius to Aziraphale, who was failing to get the point. Or at least pretending not to get the point. Okay, totally writing that at some point.
2) So that was a lot of pining and not a lot of plot or humour. Back to regularly scheduled shenanigans next chapter.
Chapter 10: Even if it throws you to the fire
Crowley has a breakthrough. Also, there is Ancient Roman love poetry.
A room with just one bed had seemed like a fantastic idea in Crowley’s optimistic head.
Lots of forced propinquity. The chance to wander around wearing nothing but clinging silk pyjama parts falling beguilingly down over his hips, because really, what was the point of being a demon if he couldn’t pull a few cheap tricks. He’d tried it in the cottage, The chance to find out if Aziraphale undressed at night or just removed his new cardigan and loosened his sleeves and undid his top shirt buttons and what the hell was wrong with Crowley, he’d seen the angel bathing naked, why did the thought of unbuttoned cuffs make his blood pound in his ears? And that was no good because now he was remembering he had been speculating on the chances of wandering in for a chat while Aziraphale was in the bath, or Aziraphale coming to find him in the shower. Unfortunately, there was no way he was going in that nightmare room again.
The point was. The point was. The point was that it seemed an ideal way to keep putting into Aziraphale’s head that now Heaven and Hell knew they were on friendly terms their relationship had certain possibilities.
It wasn’t supposed to encourage Crowley to jump the gun and end up laying it all out for Aziraphale and getting—not rejected. That would have been a clean blow. I don’t know. Yes, that was good, Crowley was hopeful, he was happy, he was closer than he had ever been, and that was the whole bloody problem. Because now he was in bed, and Aziraphale wasn’t, and Aziraphale was there and he was existing and breathing and turning pages like the tormentor he was, reminding Crowley that he was just over there, and the kisses on his lips and eyes were still burning and God Crowley really had straightforwardly offered himself up for the taking there, hadn’t he? Do you want to have me?
He was going to discorporate from embarrassment. He was going to discorporate from wanting. He was going to discorporate from embarrassment from wanting because he couldn’t even escape to the bathroom for a bit because urgh. It might settle him down, but at what a cost? Anyway, he wasn’t going to sleep. Not when all he had to do was look up, and Aziraphale would be bathed in golden light from his lamp like the unfair bastard he was.
“What are you reading, angel? I know you didn’t bring a book. Although I suppose you don’t consider books a frivolous use of miracles."
“Oh, I’m sorry, am I keeping you awake?"
Yes. “Nah, it’s fine. I just hoped you would bore me to sleep. Read to me?"
“Oh, I’m sure you wouldn’t like it,” Aziraphale said, with hasty suddenness.
“Oh really.” He wouldn’t be a snake if he couldn’t sniff blood in the water. Or was that crocodiles? Anyway. “Don’t tell me you’re reading theology at me, because that would be a breach of the Arrangement."
“No, it’s not religious."
“Well? I could come over there and look. What is it? Something racy?"
“Poetry,” Aziraphale said, as if he was admitting to the worst kind of perverted pornography.
“Well, that’s good, it will bore me quicker—wait.” Crowley sat up, blankets sliding off his bare chest. “Angel, if you’re reading poetry some besotted human wrote about you, then I am putting in a complaint. You’re my husband for the interim, and that’s emotional adultery, and I’m telling Michael on you."
“No, of course not!” Aziraphale seemed even more flustered, but truthful.
“Catullus. Only you quoted him, and I remembered something."
Oh, heaven, what was he remembering? Crowley spent thousands of years hoping Aziraphale had been too in his cups at the time to remember a demon head lolling over his shoulder as he sentimentally slurred poetry at him. Especially he had hoped that Aziraphale hadn’t remembered him confessing that he had helped to write some of it, good old party animal Gaius was never above getting Clodia, Licinius and anyone else around to “just give me a hand with this bit, my lovely”. Crowley had been inebriated enough to hope Aziraphale would connect the dots between demon, poem and angel and those bloody vile oysters they had both been eating would do their job.
Now… now, maybe he did want Aziraphale to remember. Maybe he had always remembered Crowley hanging around his neck and declaiming "Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred, then yet another thousand more, then another hundred,” and had hugged the memory to him when alone and wanted him...
Unless Aziraphale was on one of the “choke on my dick and die” verses, in which case yes, Crowley had helped quite a lot with the composition, but might not have the desired effect. Had been great at sewing discord and sin among the literati of the late Roman Republic, yes, but not the kinds of sin Crowley currently had in mind.
Although actually, it might be fun to have Aziraphale read him one of those after all. Especially 16. That pure celestial mouth forming those nasty, obscene words.
None of this was helping his more physical problem. He sank back under the covers.
Bloody Dagon. If Dagon hadn’t had such literally infernal timing. He was as bad as Tristan.
“You know,” Crowley said carefully, “Dagon is a bit of a sadist."
“Well, that’s not surprising, is it? They are a demon."
“M'not a sadist,” Crowley said hastily, in case Aziraphale was put off. “I can be very—"
“My dear, I’ve seen you set up those gachapon machines so that children think they are getting two toys at once, and then they both get stuck in the machine.”
Crowley sniggered, and Aziraphale gave him a reproachful look. “Oh, come on. It’s very effective. Their parents spend like half an hour trying to get them out and then have to buy them expensive toys instead and resentment and discord is spread all around. Anyway, the point is not demonic traits in general. The point is that my piscine line manager loves to see people squirm. In particular, they like to see snakes squirm.”
“Then you’d better get to work on your email in the morning,” Aziraphale said.
“Nah, doesn’t matter, I’ll just take credit for Brexit or something. My point is, if I popped Downstairs, do you think I would find my beloved manager among their adored paperwork, or not?"
Aziraphale did not look surprised. Aziraphale was biting his lip and casting his pretty gaze around the room as if he was trying to look anywhere but at Crowley, and—
Aziraphale raised defensive hands. “I wasn’t sure! She seems familiar, but it’s been more than six thousand years since we were intimate. I’m still not sure!"
“You utter git.” And what the heaven did he mean by intimate?
“Well, I didn’t want to cause any upset or hurt feelings, it’s not a nice thing to accuse a charming human of being a demon, and after all everyone in the village thinks she’s lived there forever. And she is such pleasant company. I thought surely you would recognise if she was Dagon,” he added a bit witheringly. “I hoped you would put my mind at ease."
“I bet you found him charming—what, she?"
“Nell, of course. Who else would you mean? When she saw your picture, she was suspiciously keen to see you, and I hoped she could be reassured you were up to no good even if we were, you know. Involved.” Aziraphale blushed. “Corrupting me or something."
“I meant Tristan!"
“Tristan?” Aziraphale blinked. “Why Tristan? I thought you’d decided he was an angel."
“Because he’s a fucking sadist!"
“I don’t think so, dear,” Aziraphale said reprovingly. “I’ve rarely met anyone so kind and concerned to make sure everyone is happy and enjoying themselves."
Crowley spluttered. Between jealousy and—oh, Satan. He couldn’t be jealous of Dagon. If he was, then Hell hadn’t been so forgiving after all, and this was his own personal torture. Being forced to play party games. Having crossword brunches. Having Dagon of all people manifest in a corporation that seemed custom-designed to appeal to Aziraphale. Being allowed to get so close to Aziraphale himself and then be thwarted at the last minute. Being—oh, fuck, if he was right, then Dagon was watching them when they were alone together. The perverted fish. Crowley approved of perversion on general principles, but not when it involved his most secret desires and his angel.
And… oh, Satan. If he did get closer to one of his most specific desires, it wouldn’t be the first time in history Dagon had brought about a plague of haemorrhoids, and knowing that bastard their timing would be infernally perfect.
He cursed repeatedly under his breath, and Aziraphale looked affronted. “Really, dear, I don’t criticise your friends."
Aziraphale looked pointedly at the book in his hands.
“Gaius has been dead for two millennia! Anyway, he wasn’t a friend. I don’t do friends. Except you.” Aziraphale gave him a look of startled, pitying tenderness, and he cleared his throat. “Look, I don’t go around looking at everyone like they are the most wonderful thing on earth like you do and making them attach to me, that’s all. I like humans, they can be good company, but it's work. And if you mention the bloody Arrangement, I will throw a pillow at you. You’re not work."
Aziraphale looked down, shy and pleased, and how could he look so shy when Crowley had been practically climbing on his lap and begging for kisses and more just a little while ago? And how could he look so infernally irresistible while doing so? It couldn’t possibly be a mystery to him that Crowley adored him at this point.
“Look, angel, we need to sort this out. Because if either is Dagon, I might be in serious trouble. I don’t trust them at all. Not to mention whatever the other one is."
Aziraphale lit up like a candle. “You’re assuming ill intent. What if they want to make sure I don’t hurt you?"
“What? Angel, I know you’re intelligent. I just don’t know how that thought came out of an intelligent brain. Dagon is an Underduke of Hell."
“And you’re a… ah..."
“Count,” Crowley said, with some difficulty. Being a Count was an embarrassment. It was like the participation prize of “We won’t actually feed you to the hell hounds over and over for giggles, but all the cool titles are taken.” At least he wasn’t a Baron.
“And you’re… well…” He could see Aziraphale searching for some compliment that wouldn’t get him pinned against a wall, which was a shame, considering.
“I’m as much of a misfit Downstairs as you are Upstairs. Dagon is not. They love their pitchfork. You should see the forms I have to fill in sometimes."
Aziraphale shuddered sympathetically. “It’s partly your fault for sending them all those computer manuals,” he said, without any cattiness to his voice. “Dearest, don’t get into a state. I’ll figure out a way for the four of us to get together and talk it all out and get to know each other. Something fun."
“No.” Aziraphale just beamed at him, while Crowley fought the effect of the smile and the dearest to focus on his fear. “Angel, my sweet darling angel, whatever you are planning, no."
“Nothing terrible. Just a nice cosy get together.” Aziraphale’s smile became dreamy. “How do you feel about Monopoly?"
“I feel—“ Crowley, panicked, sought for inspiration and found it. “I find that it’s an excellent training ground for developing ruthless adherence to capitalism, and also fostering hatred, resentment and feelings of inadequacy that manifest themselves in the pollution of sin."
“Oh,” said Aziraphale, looking so disappointed Crowley would have yielded over practically anything other than Monopoly. “Well, maybe another kind of game. I know several fun ones we used to play in our club back in—"
“Just to be straight with you, I’m not playing sex games with Tristan and Nell."
“I just want to make my position perfectly clear. And nothing with ‘innocent' hand hold-holding or lap-sitting. If you suggest Squeak, Piggy Squeak or Birdies in a Row, I’m moving to Australia."
“I’m sure I can do better than that. After all,” Aziraphale said thoughtfully, “isn’t the point of these games to make you reveal things that would otherwise go unsaid?"
“You are terrifying sometimes, you know that?” Crowley said, but he knew he would give in. He settled into bed, feeling sleepy at last. “Angel?” he asked through a yawn.
“That awful party game. Did you change the questions?"
“Hmm,” Aziraphale hummed noncommittally.
Crowley hid a grin in the pillow. So Aziraphale had really taken the chance to tell him that he’d remembered him from Heaven. That was… that made his bones turn to honey, actually. “So, you were trying to draw me out on what a good, vice-filled demon I was, just in case I was in front of my boss."
“Possibly.” Crowley could hear the smile in his voice. Angel. ”Do you still want me to read to you?"
He listened to the melodious voice, reading old love poems, old boasts, old threats, as sleep drifted warmly over him. And then, of course, it was inevitable, his own words written after a night of drinking and talking with Aziraphale. His own raw feelings spoken in Aziraphale’s voice, and in his dreamy state it sounded like it was Aziraphale’s own longing and mingled happiness and pain infusing the angel’s voice.
Giving back mutual words through joke and wine.
And from there inflamed I have gone away from your pleasantness and clever talks,
and as a result neither food helps my misery nor sleep quietly covers my eyes,
but untamed I as a result might turn with total fury,
desiring to see the light,
so that I might speak with you at the same time I might be with you.
But afterwards the half-dead limbs tired by labor were lying on a small couch,
delightful jewel, I make this poem for you,
from which you clearly see my grief.
“Oh, I love you,” Crowley said drowsily, too far asleep to edit himself.
There was a creak of a chair, and soft padded footsteps, weight on the bed next to him, and his head tenderly lifted and settled next to a soft warm thigh as fingers carded through his hair. “Sleep well, you darling ridiculous demon. I love you too,” said Aziraphale, and Crowley, wrapping an arm around the thigh and slipping into sleep, wished he could stop time and stay in this moment forever.
1) The mythological Dagon really did bring about a plague of mice and haemorrhoids, because the universe keeps handing me fanfic gifts. I am unsure on whether Dagon caused it or it was done by the Abrahamic God as a punishment for trying to give the Ark of the Covenant to them, but either way...
2) Quotes are from Gaius Valerius Catullus's Carmen 15 and 50. If you’re looking for less lovesick yearning and more "choke on a dick and die", I suggest 16 and 21.
3) I apologise for the slow updates, but—hey, they said it!
Chapter 11: We're becoming more than friends
Time to take the battle to the enemy. By double dating.
Ahaha I posted this half asleep and no betas, we fall like Crowley. Sorry. Correcting now.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crowley was surrounded by the smell of Aziraphale, ozone and fresh rain and good booze, paper and expensive cologne, the tantalising hint of incense. Warm and clean all at once. What had he been dreaming of, to wake with the scent in his senses? Not that he didn’t have an idea. He hugged the pillow under his head closer and dropped happily into one of his favourite fantasies, hissing softly.
The pillow was warm and more resistant to squeezing than he remembered. He dug his fingers in. Had he bought a heated pillow? And the scent wasn’t just in his imagination, he could taste it on his flickering tongue.
He woke up properly. His face was pressed against a soft hip, and--
“Sssorry angel.” He let go of Aziraphale’s thigh and pushed himself back across the bed, mortified.
“Good morning, dear boy."
“I was dreaming,” Crowley said awkwardly.
“Yes, I could tell."
“Oh, great. Don’t look down.” He banished the problem with what he thought of as the cold shower miracle.
Aziraphale twinkled at him, looking up again. “Your eye teeth are out. Does that always happen when you are, ah...?"
Crowley hastily retracted them. “I don’t know, it’s not as if I watch myself,” he said, which was at least partially a lie. Aziraphale had possibly been right about vanagloria, but Crowley was relatively sure he could back it up; he had mirrors, after all. “Keep my teeth in with humans. And don’t worry,” he added hastily, in case Aziraphale would be put off, “I never inject venom unless I mean to, I won’t accidentally poison you or anything."
“I've never been afraid you’d harm me, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, the twinkle becoming something almost tropical in its sunshine.
Crowley turned even redder and tried to get the conversation on more normal terms. “If we’re going to share beds, we’ll have to get you some actual nightwear. Unless you prefer to sleep nude,” he added hopefully and a bit masochistically.
Aziraphale’s glow dimmed. “I’m afraid my clothes are rather wrinkled from sleeping.” He sent Crowley a tragic look.
Ah, so it was to be this game. Crowley held his hand an inch away from the angel and traced his shape caressingly through the air, leaving clothes fresh and unwrinkled in his gesture's wake. Aziraphale’s eyes fluttered with delight, and Crowley felt ridiculously like some kind of rescuing hero.
“I’m buying you a nightshirt,” he said, gruffly. “It can be tartan if you like."
“Oh, good. So between us, we’ll have one full set of pyjamas.” Aziraphale flicked his gaze momentarily to Crowley’s chest in a way the demon profoundly hoped showed some non-angelic signs of luxuria.
“It’s a crime to cover those legs up, angel. I’ll have you wearing shorts this July, just wait and see."
“I really don’t think so,” Aziraphale said, so primly that Crowley laughed and hugged him.
“Where did that come from?” Aziraphale asked, sounding pleased. He wrapped his arms around Crowley’s bare back, and the angel's hands on Crowley's skin were like summer themselves.
“Well, hugging is apparently something we do now.” Crowley nuzzled into his neck. “Be warned. I’ve never really had the chance to explore this idea, but I suspect that once given leave and the right angel, I’m a cuddler. Probably a snake thing."
“How terrible.” Aziraphale didn’t sound worried. One hand came up to rub Crowley’s shoulder. "We should make plans, beloved."
Beloved, beloved, beloved. Crowley took a few moments to fight through the sudden pink fog in his head. “Not here. Aziraphale, your wards will prevent demonic spying?"
“Then why did Nell—"
“She was probably going to call to be invited in."
“I’m not stupid, Crowley. I wouldn't have invited her. Come on, dear. Let’s go home."
Not home, Crowley reminded himself, despite the pink fog becoming worse at the idea of a shared home. He was set on returning to London, and he knew the angel well enough to be sure that seclusion in the country would pall sooner or later. But Crowley's flat was not remotely home, either. The trick, he decided, was to work out a way to make a home in London, which involved Aziraphale living with him.
The embrace and beloved and home and Aziraphale saying to the receptionist “My husband and I were very comfortable, thank you,” made it hard to remember how to walk. He sank into a chair as the young woman said, “I’m glad you enjoyed the Bastille."
“The room,” she smiled. “Your husband particularly requested the Bastille Room."
“He did, did he?” Aziraphale lifted an eyebrow at Crowley, who grinned and winked.
As they started up the Bentley, Crowley said, “I should plan to get us locked up together in the Bastille more often. Happy memories."
“I don’t find the memory of all that murder and blood remotely happy."
“You loved being swept off your feet and rescued, though."
“I loved that you cared enough to come rescue me. I worried about you facing the consequences, though. Precious old serpent.“
Crowley filed precious old serpent away in his secret box of treasures in his own memories.
“Not in public. There’s no way to get anywhere with an interrogation in public."
“*We are getting to know each other and hopefully learn to understand each other, my dear. Negotiation at worst. Decidedly not interrogation. Besides, I don’t want to get any humans involved and out them at risk."
“What, if the parlour games get too frisky?” Crowley demanded, a little impatient at Aziraphale’s refusal to admit there was any danger. "Well, they can’t come here, we’ll compromise your wards."
“Agreed,” Aziraphale sighed. “Perhaps one of them will host us."
“No. I’m not knowingly stepping onto enemy territory again."
“Well,” said Aziraphale. “I think we were intending to motor up to London this morning to stay overnight and see a matinee tomorrow with two old friends. Sadly, they had to cancel. What on Earth will we do with the tickets?"
“They are not staying at my flat. I know Ligur got better, but even so, it’s hard to know how much Dagon remembers."
“So stop circling my chair like that. It makes it so hard to talk properly when you’re stalking.” Crowley decided to take this as an invitation and dropped onto the arm of Aziraphale’s chair, draping an arm over delectably fleshy shoulders. “Dear boy, you have quite a pleasant second flat you stay in when you’re working in London, don't you?"
Aziraphale slid a hand around Crowley’s hip and dropped lower, as Crowley froze, not daring to move. The angel’s plump hand retrieved Crowley’s phone from his pocket and handed it to him. “I do believe that the other day you were telling me about this brilliant concept you come up with called homestay lodgings. Air BNB or something.” He smiled. “So proud of your hard work, dear. I’ll go call Tristan and Nell while you arrange something, and you can drive us up."
“I didn’t say I’d let them in the Bentley!"
“You very kindly offered to show it to Tristan,” Aziraphale reproved. “This is the perfect opportunity."
“Hope they like Queen,” Crowley muttered, although in fact the curse of Best of Queen had lifted when they left Tadfield. If it was Dagon, though, or some bloody angel, they deserved to be subjected to Freddie Mercury.
It was only after he had found somewhere bearable in Kensington in the Plum Guide, miraculously unbooked, while trying to control jealous resentment at the friendly pleasure in Airaphale’s voice on the phone, that Crowley caught a certain word and tensed.
“Angel. What did you arrange for us to see?"
“Well, I had been meaning to see White Christmas, and it seemed the perfect opportunity to get in the spirit.” Aziraphale’s face was a picture of innocence.
Crowley groaned, collapsing sideways into the chair. His only consolation was that Dagon would suffer as much as he would.
He was conscious of just a little admiring pride. Arranging to take one to three demons to see White Christmas, angels really were natural sadists. No wonder they took to Hell so well once Fallen.
Crowley wound down his window and scowled at how close Aziraphale and Tristan were walking together as they headed down the footpath. Tristan was wearing tartan again, this time in an exaggeratedly oversized pattern in beige with thin lavender stripes and with brown suede elbow patches. He should have looked like a frowsty old professor. Instead the colours made his skin glow and he looked effortlessly stylish and just a bit camp. Crowley was afraid that next to him he would look pale and skinny and dressed like a teenager.
“I adore White Christmas!” Tristan was saying joyfully. “I’ve been three times already, and I am ecstatic to see it again in such delightful company.” He patted Aziraphale’s arm fondly, and Crowley fought the temptation to pull down his glasses to show Aziraphale just how much trouble he was in. He loved his Valentino glasses, but sometimes they got in the way of a good glare.
Aziraphale smiled serenely at him in a way that suggested he knew quite well what he was doing to annoy Crowley and was going to keep doing it anyway. “I’m so very pleased you could come,” he said, looking up at Tristan through his lashes. There was no way he didn’t know what he was doing.
Crowley sprang out of the car, said “Hullo, Tristan,” grabbed Aziraphale’s hand and whisked him around to the passenger side. He opened the door for him, and before he handed him in, pressed a hard kiss on his mouth. Tristan gracefully opened his own door as if Crowley had shown perfect manners.
Crowley was expecting a whispered scolding, or at least a reproachful look. He was surprised and pleased to just notice a certain flustered pleasure. So the angel liked jealous possessiveness. Interesting.
“Such a beautiful car,” Tristan said easily. “Any seatbelts?"
“No,” Crowley said curtly, and “No,” Aziraphale said with resigned despair.
“I suppose you’re keeping her entirely vintage. Really quite a treat to ride in her. Do you find it’s a problem being so much slower than the traffic flow?"
Crowley smiled with all his teeth, and pulled out with a squeal. “Less than you’d expect."
He was pleased that Tristan subsided into silence as the Bentley peeled through the narrow streets. He wasn’t as hardened to Crowley’s driving as Aziraphale, who managed to turn only a little pale and not clutch to the door too obviously. Crowley solicitously held out a hand for Aziraphale to clutch for stability, which oddly was unappreciated and only earned him a sharp “Both hands on the wheel, please!"
They pulled in at Nell’s house, which turned out to be another sodding mansion just outside town, with a path that looked a mile long leading up to the house. Trust Aziraphale. Heaven might welcome the humble, but Aziraphale had expensive hobbies.
“Would you go collect Nell, dearest?” Aziraphale asked sweetly. “I’ll keep Tristan company."
Crowley gave him an aghast look of betrayal and fury. He could hardly refuse. After all, Aziraphale had probably spent lots of time alone in Tristan’s company since moving here, and Crowley had been an absolute fool to let him leave London and not follow him.
Even so. Aziraphale had said he loved him. He hadn’t said precisely how he loved him, still, Crowley was also sure Tristan had never spent an entire night snuggled up to Aziraphale’s hip and thigh. Some things only came with thousands of years of devotion. He should trust his clever angel. Crowley turned his expression into a softer one and leaned across to peck Aziraphale on the cheek. “Of course, darling."
He made sure to swing his hips even more enticingly than usual as he went up the path. He had just enough self-respect not to turn back and see if either angel or man was watching him.
Nell came to the door quickly. At least she wasn’t wearing tartan. She looked motherly and demure in tailored blue jacquard that made her eyes shine, but after all, she probably wasn’t Aziraphale’s type. Probably. At least in this form. If Aziraphale had a type, Crowley was pretty sure it was less womanly looking.
“Hello, Anthony, you old devil,” she said. “Have you and my Zira been enjoying yourselves?"
“We’ve been having a marvellous time. What’s that under your arm?” he asked suspiciously.
“Well, I thought we had an entire evening to fill after the show—so very kind to give us a place for the night—and I know darling Zira will find this fun.”
She patted the box of Monopoly tucked under her arm, giving him a kind look, and any remaining doubts fell away from Crowley. “You were spying on ussss,” he hissed, “you bas–” Nell’s pale blue eyes glittered, and her lips parted to show too many teeth, definitely at least an extra row in there. “My Lord,” Crowley hastily amended.
Nell smiled, a fond human smile. “We’re all going to have a lovely time and renew our acquaintance.” She patted his arm maternally. “I’ve never been to a musical. Do you think you will enjoy it? I hope it’s not taking you away from your work. I’ll be expecting your email before you go to bed, Anthony."
He offered her—them—his arm, and they took it, bringing their heads close enough to whisper to each other as they walked to the car. “What about Tristan?” he hissed.
“What do you mean? Isn’t it just a double date?” Nell asked under their breath, still smiling at him. "Or am I supposed to chaperone him and keep him away from your heavenly boyfriend, you traitorous serpent?”
Crowley battled with himself for a moment, but while Dagon was obviously his enemy in every way including being his immediate superior, they were also in a fundamental way on the same side. It seemed a little stupid to try and hide things from them they obviously already knew. If they knew about Monopoly, they knew Crowley and Aziraphale had been speculating about Tristan. “Is he one of ours?"
“Don’t be more stupid than you can help."
Crowley remembered Tristan stepping over Aziraphale’s wards. “One of theirs, then?"
“Search me. Never occurred to me. I thought he was a local besotted with your husband. It was hilarious. Should have seen your face at the party."
They were nearly at the Bentley now. Tristan called out jovially, “No whispering secrets, or we’ll think you’re having an affair."
“Oh, Anthony is hardly that ambitious,” Nell crooned. Crowley considered his options, then walked around to their side and chivalrously opened the door for them. No harm in sucking up. Besides, it now meant he had opened doors for everyone except Tristan, which gave him petty pleasure.
So did driving at a hundred and ten miles per hour on narrow roads, and the tense, terrified silence that gripped the car until they were on the motorway and the assembled company relaxed a little at the lack of quick bends.
“I’ve never been to a West End musical before,” Nell confessed when speech became possible.
“Lucky you,” Crowley muttered, at the same time that Aziraphale gasped, “Oh, my dear. I am so glad we are rectifying this for you."
“Musicals are my breath and life,” said Tristan. “Music and poetry in general are my special sphere. It’s one of the reasons Zira and I were so drawn together."
His fucking husband is in the car, you know, Crowley hissed silently at Tristan.
“How lovely,” said Nell. “Is White Christmas an especially good one?"
“Indeed. It’s so full of love and hope and the spirit of Christmas. And the songs! Irving was quite the genius. Of course, the true musicals, the ones that are truly the gift of God delivered through the prayers of humanity, are the Hammerstein musicals. They make my heart want to sing like the chime that flies from the Earth on a breeze.” Tristan sighed. “I can never be unmoved by the rush of the song."
Crowley felt a hand on his thigh, fingers digging into the muscles, and turned to give Aziraphale an ardent look in return. Instead, he nearly drove into a truck in the next lane, until Nell shrieked and he jerked his attention back to the road.
Aziraphale’s eyes were wide with anguish, and his face was almost pale with stricken horror.
1) Well, my dears, do we know who Tristan is yet? Just in case you need a final clue, google “unmoved by the rush of the song”. Use the quotation marks, though, or you’ll get songs by Rush. XD
The Plum Guide is like AirBNB for people like Crowley. The flat I have in mind is about $2,000 Australian dollars a night. Crowley doesn’t slum it any more than Aziraphale does.
4) I hoped to get to the Monopoly game this instalment, but it’s getting late, and I wanted to update, my patient dears. Thank you as always for your support and comments, they mean so much.
5) Chapter titles are still from Kylie songs. This one is from
Stop Me From Falling
which—may be ironic.
Chapter 12: I see them all smiling, those all around me
Aziraphale discovers the delight of British human culture that is motorway services, four ancient occult and celestial beings sit down for a friendly game of Monopoly, and Crowley is ever chivalrous.
Crowley forced himself to relax his shoulders and slump more, showing no tension in his posture. Be cool, he told himself. Show no fear. He let his left hand reach for Aziraphale’s again, and this time the angel took it, clinging tightly to it as if it was his only source of stability.
“Feeling a little carsick, darling?” Crowley asked tenderly, and Aziraphale nodded gratefully.
“I can’t imagine why he would be,” Tristan said drily.
“Sorry, guys. Zira’s stomach can be a little delicate sometimes. Too much rich food, I keep telling him. What say we stop off at the next services and get a cup of tea to settle him down?"
“That sounds highly entertaining,” Nell said cheerfully. “Please do."
Crowley managed to resist turning around to glare at them. “No objections, Tristan?” he asked in a tone that made it clear that he would brook no argument.
“By all means,” Tristan said courteously.
In more usual circumstances, Crowley would have shaved his head before taking Aziraphale to motorway services, both because it wasn’t exactly the kind of place to enjoy treating him and because his soul would wither at the remarks Aziraphale would make at the refreshments available. This one didn’t even have a Waitrose. That Aziraphale didn’t object at all was a worrying sign.
He pulled the Bentley in, careful to stop across three parking spaces, and sprang around to Aziraphale’s side, opening Nell’s door, although not Tristan’s, as he went.
“All right, angel?” he asked sympathetically, taking the chance to pull Aziraphale close as he helped him out. Aziraphale managed a limp smile. “I’m sorry guys, if you don’t mind getting Zira a cup of tea and some water, I think I’d best get him to the loos. Just in case."
“Absolutely my pleasure,” said Tristan, offering a courtly arm to Nell. “We’ll see you in a minute, boys."
Crowley steered Aziraphale to the public toilets, stalked up to and glared at the sole human at the urinal until he zipped up and departed in terror, kicked every cubicle door to make sure they were empty, and magically locked the main door. Then he pulled Aziraphale close, wrapping his arms tightly around him, some part of the back of his mind marvelling that he could just do this now, as if touching him after thousands of years was nothing.
“So,” he said at last. “Who is he?"
“Can’t say I know that one."
“How can you possibly not know Sandalphon?” Aziraphale asked, and Crowley was glad to hear a note of irritation cut through the fear.
“Angel, there were twelve million of us before the Fall, and I was terrible at making friends. I couldn’t possibly know every celestial being. I didn’t know even you, did I?” He kissed Aziraphale’s forehead, and was gratified to sense the fear draining even further. Aziraphale always tended to be fretful and anxious, except when things were actually serious, in which case he became implacable. “Even though you noticed me,” Crowley added, trying to help with added tenderness.
“You knew him."
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t."
“Enoch, the first King of humans. Right back near the beginning before the Flood."
“Him? He was a decent songwriter but he was a pain in my arse, peace reigning under him and all that, until he vanished—holy fuck."
“Language, Crowley. He was translated into paradise and became the archangel of music, poetry and prayer.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound too intimidating, even if he’s an archangel. What’s he going to do, sing to us? Chin up, darling.” Crowley matched action to words by putting a finger under Aziraphale’s face to tip it up to his, and wondered if he had the courage to kiss him softly on the lips, to the musical trickle of the urinals and heady scent of disinfectant and inadequately cleaned toilets. He kind of failed at creating a romantic atmosphere. Still, he decided selflessly, his angel needed cheering up, so if he had to kiss him here, he would.
“He’s on my team, and he’s also a Dominion."
“Oh,” Crowley said flatly, the fear making sense now. “That’s not great.” They were a notoriously smiting bunch, Dominions. Just as bad after they Fell. You really didn’t want to piss off Satan enough to get turned over to Oilliet and Rosier.
“Not just any Dominion, either. Did you ever visit Gomorrah?"
"Sure," said the demon. "There was this great little tavern where you could get these terrific fermented date-palm cocktails with nutmeg and crushed lemongrass—"
"I meant afterwards."
"Oh.”1 Crowley wetted suddenly dry lips, aware that he was embracing the angel in a public toilet while they both wore male-presenting corporations. “Do you think it would help if I changed—no, a bit late by now. Anyway, I thought you said a while back that current thinking was that this was okay?"
“You’re the Enemy. I think that’s more of an issue than your favourite shape."
“Oh. Yeah. Mm. That reminds me. You were right about Nell being Dagon, by the way. Declared themselves too, on the way to the car. Seem to be having the time of their lives."
“So now we know.” Aziraphale stepped back a bit. “Seems a bit silly to keep pretending to be married humans."
Crowley hastily pulled him back, feeling like a kid whose favourite birthday toy was on the brink of being snatched away for poor behaviour. “Nah. We still don’t know what they are up to. Better keep the ruse up. Sandalphon knows you know he’s Sandalphon, and Dagon knows I know Nell is Dagon. They don’t necessarily know about each other, unless—heaven, Dagon might be listening in right now, but maybe not if they are with Sandalphon, I don’t know."
“I can’t imagine Sandalphon working with a demon,” Aziraphale fretted, but he sank back into the hug contentedly enough.
“Dagon didn’t seem to know who he was. I mean, they could be lying about it, Dagon lies just for the fun of it. Still, I think they genuinely didn’t know. Maybe they would be interested in helping us figure it out. Do a bit of celestial thwarting."
“You seem almost pleased at the idea,” Aziraphale said curiously.
“Yeah, well, Dagon is a sadistic petty bastard, but they’re not the worst of our lot by far. I like petty bastards, lucky for you."
He expected an offended objection. Aziraphale just said, “I suppose I am very lucky, dear boy,” and rubbed his face against Crowley’s shoulder. Crowley could have sworn his heart stopped completely for a few seconds.
“All better? You can have a nice—well, nasty—cup of tea, and we’ll go to your sodding musical, and all play Monopoly tonight. And whatever dastardly game you are planning that you won’t tell me about. All friends. An angel and demon double date, oh Satan."
That made Aziraphale chuckle. “Sorry, my dear, it was a bit of a shock. Thank you for the comfort.” His lips brushed Crowley’s cheek.
“Any time,” Crowley managed, as his vital functions forgot what they were supposed to do for a bit. “Come on, angel.” He slipped his hand into Aziraphale’s and led him out.
Tristan and Nell were apparently engaged in deep conversation when found their inadequately cleaned table.
“You’re looking much better, Zira,” Tristan said genially. “Roses back in your cheeks. A hot drink will set you straight, in a matter of speaking.” Crowley considered picking up the nearest cup and emptying it over his smug angelic head.
There was tea for the angels, and coffee for the demons, which Crowley found interesting. Also, sipping it cautiously, his coffee was much better than he expected coffee made by some untrained British “barista” to be, which suggested his line manager was having an oddly benign moment.
There was also a plate in the centre of the table, heaped with pastries. They looked flaky, buttery and of a quality entirely unexpected of the usual sad fare at motorway services. Crowley cast an anxious glance at the chair beside him. Aziraphale’s eyes were gleaming.
“We thought a bite to eat might help settle your poor tummy, Zira darling, so we chose you a selection,” Nell said. They turned bright eager eyes to Aziraphale’s face, as did Tristan, as Aziraphale reached for a pain au chocolat. There was a steep rise in breathless tension around the table as Aziraphale raised it to his mouth.
Crowley sprawled back in his chair and imagined he had unlimited access to hellfire and holy water.
Crowley put on some music as they left again, to try and ward off any conversation that might unsettle his angel again. Besides, if he was going to sit through Irving Berlin, Crowley deserved some Brahms first. Unfortunately, either the Bentley was pissed off at carrying strangers, Aziraphale’s anxiety about Dominions was affecting the poor darling car and she was expressing her beloved angel Papa’s worry musically, or some bastard was deliberately trying to upset Aziraphale more despite the pleasure he had given everyone over the pastries. The CD Crowley had put on was clearly marked Piano Concerto No. 2, but what came out of the Blaupunkt was--
“Oh, Benjamin Britten!” said Tristan joyously. “What a treat! Divinely inspired, this opera. Thank you, Anthony."
Crowley reached out silently and let Aziraphale grip his hand.
Fourtye dayes and fortye nightes
Raine shall fall forther unrightes,
And that I have made through my mightes
Now thinke I to destroye.2
It was definitely Sandalphon. Crowley had always pegged Tristan for a sadist.
“Not really the kind of place I fancied you living in, Anthony,” Nell said, looking around the penthouse flat. “I like the monochromatic colour scheme, white and black and grey, very… thematic. But I somehow imagined you with rather less cushions.” Crowley stared at the hundreds of cushions on every sitting surface, and was at a loss to explain them as part of his aesthetic.
“I like cushions,” Aziraphale said helpfully, and Nell beamed fondly at him.
“Of course you do, Zira dear. Always like your earthly comforts. That explains it, then. Your husband really does spoil you dotingly, doesn’t he?"
“Right,” Crowley said, turning red. “Master bedroom is down the hall, the other three are up for grabs, fight over them yourselves. We’ll get settled and then—"
“I’ll make tea,” Tristan offered.
“Thank you, dear,” Aziraphale said affectionately, just as if he hadn’t been grey with terror about him an hour before. Crowley wondered if it was brilliant acting or some kind of natural angelic buoyancy.
“I’ve arranged for housekeeping to send up some light lunch. The show isn’t until three, so we have plenty of time."
“Oh, goodie,” said Nell. “I’ll get the Monopoly board set up, shall I?"
“How marvellous,” said Tristan enthusiastically. “My favourite game. We’ll reserve the race car for you, Anthony."
“I bag the iron,” said Aziraphale.
“There’s no iron in this set, darling,” Nell said sympathetically. “Don’t worry, I have the perfect one for you."
Hell, Crowley realised. He was in hell. In sudden determination, he pulled Aziraphale down the hall into the master bedroom, snatched him close and kissed him, trying to lay claim to at least a tiny bit of heaven before he faced board games.
Aziraphale tensed for a moment, and Crowley prepared to pull away, but then soft lips parted and returned the kiss gently and oh, yes, it really was sweeter than heaven had ever been, even if he didn’t dare deepen the kiss as much as his instincts screamed at him to.
“Come on, my angel,” he said softly. “Let’s go join the battle. Together."
“Together,” whispered Aziraphale.
“You are demolishing my flat to build a hotel,” snapped Crowley, watching Aziraphale scoop the four houses off Kensington. So bloody much for battling together. It was bad enough that Mayfair was apparently now called Kensington on the board, which made him feel like he had somehow lost prestige, but Aziraphale building hotels on what the demon somewhat confusedly thought was both his flats was too much. “So much for loyalty."
“Sorry, my dear boy,” Aziraphale said, beaming angelically at him. “All’s fair in love and board games. This is such fun, isn’t it?” Crowley reflected that there was nothing worse than a good winner.
“He’s awfully good, isn’t he?” Nell said admiringly. “Positively demonic. If I’d known how much talent he had, I would thought about recruiting him ages ago.” Crowley sent them a sharp glance. They just looked at the board, where Aziraphale had managed to nail not only all the airports but the dark blue, orange and red squares, and was busily developing them, while the best Crowley had managed was the mobile phone company and the bloody useless pale blue squares. He had even lost out on the Internet company to Nell.
The worst thing was, he couldn’t cheat. He was pretty sure he hadn’t played a game of anything without cheating before in his life. Aziraphale generally caught him, which was all part of the fun. Especially in his days of travelling the Orient Express as a card shark, when Aziraphale was forced to choose between his principles and risking getting Crowley discorporated. He always chose Crowley, which was highly satisfying, even if he had to put up with lectures and sulks afterwards.
It wasn’t that Crowley wasn’t trying to cheat. He had standards, after all, and the nerve-wracking knowledge that his line manager was at the table checking if he was being demonic enough. It was that he couldn’t. At least one Someone at the table was interfering with his powers, and he had no idea if it was Sandalphon or Dagon. Possibly both. He threw the dice down hard on the table, and--
“Oh, hard luck,” said Tristan, as Crowley scowlingly moved the racing car to Hammersmith.
“Is that mine?” Aziraphale asked innocently. “Oh, look, it has a hotel too."
“You are going to pay for this,” growled Crowley, counting out a stack of money.
Aziraphale pointedly looked at the pathetically small pile of money and cards in front of Crowley. "I hardly think so, sweetheart."
Crowley turned pink and subsided. Cattiness and new endearments. The angel was definitely not playing fair, did he want Crowley to flip the table and kiss the life out of him instead?
“You should have had the cat playing piece,” he muttered.
“Oh, but I do adore the rubber duck. Nell was right."
Tristan, who had the cat, rolled. “Nell seems to know you quite well,” he noted. He landed on an airport and paid cheerfully and graciously up to Aziraphale.
“Oh, didn’t we ever mention it?” Nell moved the Tyrranosaurus Rex safely onto one of their own squares. “Zira and I are old friends who lost touch. We used to work together. I trained him in administration, in fact. Such a dear.” She sighed. “But I was never meant to work there."
“What you taught me has been very useful in running my bookshop. I’ll always be grateful. Do you miss working there?” Aziraphale asked softly, and no, oh no, Crowley took back every thought he had that it was almost not so bad having Dagon around, he shouldn’t have forgotten for one moment how sneaky they were.
“They wouldn’t ever take me back, dear, not after being head-hunted by the enemy.” Nell turned tragic blue eyes to Aziraphale and oh no, oh no, oh fuck. They were hitting Aziraphale’s weak spots with perfect accuracy—food, antiques, and now… “They think of me as being a traitor for leaving. They are not known for being forgiving."
“That’s not true,” Aziraphale said eagerly, “if you are truly sorry and want to return, I’m sure they would reconsider.” Crowley was going to scream.
“You make it sound like you used to work for the Mafia,” Tristan said, laughing heartily.
“Much worse than that.” Crowley gave Aziraphale a tight smile. He was finding it difficult to think through his fury. “Your turn, angel.” Aziraphale was still sitting, dice in hand, staring at Nell.
“Sometimes, there have to be sides, and punishments for traitors,” Tristan said. “Otherwise, what is the point of competition at all?” He gave a tight, nasty smile, quite unlike his usual genial manner. “I’m very competitive."
Aziraphale tried to roll the dice, but they slipped from the mirrored glass table and skidded under the. “Oh dear.” He dropped to his hands and knees.
“I’ll get it, angel,” Crowley said, quickly and solicitously, and bent down to scoop them up. He caught sight of Aziraphale’s face down there, and what he saw sent pain lancing through his belly. He touched Aziraphale’s arm swiftly and comfortingly, and came up again, dice triumphantly in his hand. “There. I’ll look after you,” he promised, the weight of it almost crushing him. It took a moment for Aziraphale to resurface.
“We’d better get ready,” Tristan said smoothly. “We can resume the game later.”
“Of course, of course,” Aziraphale fluttered. Crowley pulled him to his feet chivalrously and they went to their room.
“Are you feeling all right?” Crowley stroked Aziraphale's cheek. He would do anything, he realised with choking clarity, absolutely anything, to make sure the only wrinkles that disturbed that soft curve were smile lines. If he was a vice-filled demon, well, then, his vices could be pressed to a least one kind of angelic service.
“Of course,” Aziraphale said, not meeting his eyes. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Crowley growled, crushed him tight for a moment, and then left the room without a word.
1 Yeah, I lifted the passage directly from the novel, it was too perfect for my purposes to mess with.↩
2 From Benjamin Britten’s “church opera” Noye’s Flood, (Noah’s Flood), which uses the text from a 15th century Chester mystery play. The quote is from the narrative bit I, God, That All This World Hath Wroughte, which doesn’t actually have any music, but I’ve added the music to the first track (which immediately precedes it), Lord Jesus Think On Me, and the Brahms, to 6,0000 Years of Angsty Pining for anyone curious.↩
1) Just a reminder that this is following book canon for the end—Crowley hasn’t had any reason to meet Sandalphon.
2) Dominions are the angels charged with “enforcing God’s justice upon the world.” I don’t think it’s an accident that Gaiman (and Pterry?) chose the Dominion archangel Sandalphon as one of Aziraphale’s new supervisors. (I’m of the opinion that Gabriel either knew, or had heavy suspicions, about fraternisation.)
3) According to Sébastien Michaëlis’s 17th century classification of demons, Oilliet and (possibly) Rosier are fallen Dominions officiating in Hell.
4) I went through the shock of finding out that Monopoly boards and pieces have changed since I was a kid, and Mayfair is out. This was a devastating blow, but then I decided it would just cause more confusion for Crowley, and had a better choice of playing pieces. Besides, Dagon hasn’t been on Earth very long, they would have a new set.
5) The monochrome homestay flat I finally picked for the celestials in Kensingston is over 1,800 pounds a night, or $2350-odd in US dollars. I counted 25 cushions on the lounge set, it was like an Australian bed.
Chapter 13: Now there's angels all around
Crowley deals with the devil, or at least a demon. The celestial beings take in a show.
Aziraphale weighed up whether to follow Crowley or not. he had, as he would put it to himself, the heeby-jeebies. He was fretting too much to stand still, and--
Yes, he was bloody furious with the demon.
He knew he was in no place to speak. He had made his own terrible mistakes in not being clear and honest with Crowley when it really mattered. He had chosen his duty to report to Heaven about the Antichrist over his desire to confide in Crowley, and that should have been unforgivable, except that for a demon that talked about unforgivableness Crowley was surprisingly ready to forgive. Surely, though, the point was that they should have learned to talk to each other? And yes, he might possibly have overlooked telling Crowley there was a potential demon in the village and it was possibly his own line manager who had definitely recognised Crowley if so, but...
Aziraphale’s righteous anger dissolved in a puddle of remorseful self-reflection, and he decided to concentrate on worrying instead. Should he go after Crowley? Did he run the risk of making things worse? Surely Crowley would not confront Sandalphon alone. Surely he would feel it if Crowley was in real danger. Feel a certain pull, a call.
He hadn’t known when Ligur and Hastur had come for Crowley, too caught up in his own research and conflicts.
Aziraphale sighed and concentrated on picking out cologne and a rather lovely new silk bow tie for the show, changing into his old, elegant waistcoat and jacket rather than the new cardigan jacket. The perfect soft fabric and the silk lining still delighted him, but part of him missed the easy drape of the cashmere cardigan. His new life, unconstructed and cheerfully chaotic. A conservatory crammed with terrified plants, burned down kitchens, unnecessary gadgets.
The ridiculous pretence at marriage, which was not ridiculous at all, which was filled with friendship and a demon thrusting into his life and rearranging it to suit himself and a hand tucked in his elbow or interlaced with his and longing. A frustrating, demanding demon murmuring words of love and stealing embraces.
Do you want to have a demon? Do you want to risk Falling or annihilation for love? To ask it as if it was something simple. And then, faced with a Dominion and an Under-Duke of Hell, to just vanish off by himself and take who knew what stupid risks without discussing them.
Aziraphale was once again very angry indeed.
The door flung back open, Aziraphale snapped with some asperity, “Where do you think you went?"
“Buying insurance.” Crowley had changed clothes at some point. The jeans were replaced by drainpipe trousers that were familiar, oh too familiar, from the twentieth and nineteenth centuries. Folds of lustrous red silk hanging around his neck and chest, delicately patterned with black snakes. Looking captivatingly handsome, in fact, and how dare he look like that when Aziraphale was worrying?
Crowley reached out and grabbed him by the shoulders. The glasses were still shielding his eyes, but his mouth looked—what did it look? Fierce and tender and oddly jubilant, with a kind of hysterical gaiety lifting the corners that was deeply concerning. “Don’t glare, angel. I told you, I’ll look after you. Dagon—didn’t I say they’re not so bad? They mean you no harm."
“What about you? Do they mean you harm?” Aziraphale asked, crisply. “I’m not afraid of any middle-management demon on my own behalf, thank you."
“I’ll be fine,” Crowley said dismissively. “I know what they are after now, and—oh, Aziraphale! If only I could tell you. It’s such a joke. Dangerous, but hilarious. Always knew Dagon was an idiot."
“Tell me, then,” Aziraphale said, a flicker of anger returning. Crowley really did seem too manic, but then his two default moods were so laid back he was almost upside down or strung up to the point of snapping.
“Can’t. Demonic contract. You know.” Crowley looked guilty. “Bound with hellfire and signed in triplicate, can’t tell you without Dagon’s express permission."
Aziraphale huffed and started to pull away, and Crowley pushed his glasses up on top of his head and looked pleadingly at him, arms held out slightly to his side. The look, angel, I’m no threat, I’m vulnerable, give me what I want and don’t worry about the consequences pose. Aziraphale recognised it, he understood it, and still his heart always wanted to fall for it.
If Dagon’s intentions really were a joke, then Crowley wouldn’t have made a formal demonic contract. What had Crowley promised?
“Angel, don’t scowl at me that. Not now. I need to know—I really need to know, Aziraphale—if you meant it when you said you l-loved me.” He stumbled over it. "Don’t worry about how you love me, I don’t need any dithering over whether it’s philia or pragma or even bloody agape—do you love me any tiny bit at all?"
Aziraphale looked into the golden eyes, bulging and no longer human shaped, pupils dilated to nearly fill them, and pushed aside millennia of denial to say, the words coming out more defiantly and sulkily than they should, “I love you. I’m sorry I ever made you doubt it.”
"That’s good. Great. I love you too. One more. Do you like me?"
“I like you more than any being in all the world.” His voice was shaking. And why wasn’t Crowley kissing him? Surely they should be kissing after declarations like this. Why was Crowley's “I love you too” so hurried and matter-of-fact?
“Fine. That’s—that’s perfect. And me too. If it wasn’t obvious by now. Aziraphale, my only friend, my angel, I would do anything for you. Bloody anything.” His eyes bulged even further, and they shouldn’t have looked appealing, they should have looked monstrous.
“Will you obey red lights for me?” He tried a tiny smile.
“Big things. I would do any big things for you. You don’t want to upset the Bentley by restraining her like that, she trusts you."
Will you tell me what you and Dagon talked about? It hovered on his lips, but it wasn’t actually possible to say. He knew enough about demonic contracts to know Crowley couldn’t fool with it. What had the dear idiot boy done? Aziraphale was so scared for him that the butterflies fluttered unbearably through his chest.
He put a hand on each side of Crowley’s face and pulled it down to his own, trying to communicate his concern, his love, his liking if that was what was truly needed, in his kiss. Crowley held very still for a second, then his arm went around the back of Aziraphale’s head, pulling him close, lips parting, kissing more deeply, as if Aziraphale being the one to initiate had broken some kind of dam of self-control. Aziraphale felt a tongue swipe against his, more delicate than any human tongue, and had the strangest feeling that the insides of his thighs had turned to liquid.
“You boys ready?” called out Tristan’s jovial voice.
Crowley broke the kiss, and Aziraphale expected him to swear, but instead he laughed, a little wildly. “Come on, angel. We have your blasted musical show to watch. You owe me for taking me to this,” and his tone was so normal and fond that it made all of Aziraphale’s agitation seem silly. “The things I do for my husband."
Aziraphale wondered when the mocking tone added to my husband had completed faded away, and when he had started to feel a kind of terror at the thought of never hearing it again. It wasn’t like he hadn't entertained the thought that Crowley was enjoying the game, and might even want it to continue. It had seemed such a silly thought, barely even to be acknowledged at the back of his head, that a demon would want to be married, even to their best friend.
Crowley always teased, always flirted, always posed, always circled, always was far too aware of how attractive he was, far too aware that Aziraphale couldn’t help noticing the long lean legs, the lovely planes of his face, the graceful turn of his neck. A long game, across thousands of human lifetimes, inevitable when your Adversary was both unexpectedly companionable and a creature of lust. It was never anything to take seriously. Certainly not something to admit was sometimes painful.
I ask you again, angel, do you want to have me?
The answer was quite simple, almost terrifyingly so, after being kissed like that. Yes. In every way.
Except that they were sharing a flat with their supervisors, and one was a blessed Dominion, and Crowley had made some kind of secret deal with the other, and they had a musical to go to with them. Because nothing ever was simple for them.
The music swirled from the orchestra, and Aziraphale, forgetting his worries, sighed and let his worries drain away as the girls came out on stage, letting himself get swept up along with the music and spectacle. The two of them might be wedged between a senior angel and a middle-level demon, but Irving Berlin was Irving Berlin.
"Never had to have a chaperone, no sir—"
A light by his side distracted his attention.
“Turn off your phone!” Aziraphale breathed, outraged.
“I’m not the only one with my phone turned on,” hissed Crowley, closing his game. “Listen—“ The audience erupted with trills, buzzes, flashing screens, and music. Pain flickered across the faces of the performers for just a split second, as they gamely carried on while hundreds of people simultaneously hastily grabbed their mobile phones from laps, pocket and bags and tried to turn them off. “See?” Crowley said innocently as if that had exonerated him.
“What a strange and unfortunate thing to happen,” Tristan murmured across Crowley’s other side. Crowley had sat down beside Tristan awfully quickly, and Aziraphale was fairly sure it was to maintain a protective barrier. On Aziraphale's other side, Nell's shoulders were shaking with repressed giggles.
“Must be a telephonic wave surge,” Aziraphale said through gritted teeth. He reached for Crowley’s hand and grasped it so tightly he could almost feel the bones press together, daring him to try anything else.
Crowley sighed contentedly and settled back in his chair, as much as he ever settled in a chair, which was to mean he sprawled sideways across the armrest, head drifting towards Aziraphale’s shoulder.
“You could have just asked to hold my hand,” Aziraphale whispered into his ear, as the audience settled. He could feel the grin against his shoulder, as the audience settled and the show carried on.
“Those who have seen us, know not a thing could come between us…” The actors were regaining courage.
He was aware that the grip of his hand had relaxed, and he was idly drawing his thumb back and forth across the back of Crowley’s hand. The demon tilted his head slightly and Aziraphale sensed rather than felt a kiss against his shoulder.
“A telephonic wave surge? Really, angel."
“Hush,” Aziraphale commanded, in agony, knowing he had been tempted, or provoked, far too easily into taking in a theatre, and that people had recovered enough from the phone incident to be glaring.
Crowley did indeed hush, and everything settled down. Aziraphale let himself drift into the show again, deliberately sealing his fear off and concentrating on the delightful misunderstandings of the love stories, the movement and glitter of the costumes and dance, the music, the weight of a head on his shoulder, the cool hand linked to his. This would be, he thought with keen pain, so utterly delightful if it was only the two of them there. Crowley would still carp and sulk about the choice of show, but he would be indulgent enough to go anyway, and hold hands and snuggle just like this, and buy him a special supper afterwards, watching him in that dark intense way he had, and they would go home together….
…if they were actually married.
Just a couple of weeks ago, and the thought would have seemed absurd. But he could feel, surely he could feel, happiness and contentment radiating from the slim form by his side. Their charade, which only had the thinnest justification now, didn’t require secret kisses on his shoulder or slumping against him in the dark. Certainly didn't require embraces behind closed doors.
Crowley was happy acting like a couple, Aziraphale was sure of it, he could feel it radiating off him whenever they were close. Crowley was hardly ever happy; he enjoyed himself very much, true, but happy was not a word associated with the denizens of Hell. The knowledge had always hurt Aziraphale, that no matter how much fun Crowley was having, there was always an undercurrent of emptiness. Crowley was lonely, Azirphale knew that, and had been showing a raw eagerness for attention and affection that cut Aziraphale to the bone. The demon had said he loved him, twice now, and neither time for an audience. Crowley had definitely made his more physical intentions clear in the hotel. He had made his offer and hadn't pressed. He had always been oddly chivalrous for a Fallen being.
Crowley probably wouldn’t mind being married, at least unofficially. Wouldn't mind the closeness and acknowledgement of being a team, let alone the other things. The thought was so heady that Aziraphale felt he was floating on the music.
"And if you're worried and you can't sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep."
Tristan shifted on the other side of Crowley, and Aziraphale came back to Earth with a bump. An angel being married to a demon was a really, really stupid idea, and they couldn’t keep up this pretence of humanity forever.
Nell shifted as if in response to his rise in tension, and their hand came up and patted Aziraphale on the knee. Not playfully, not coquettishly. Reassuringly. Almost possessively. In concert, Crowley's hand squeezed his. Aziraphale was surrounded by demons, and he had the oddest feeling that they had united to protect him from a fellow angel. Cushioned from Grace by evil and hellfire.
Unbidden, a guilty memory drifted back into his mind: when they couldn’t find the Antichrist, when everything was falling apart, he had seriously considered asking Crowley if Hell would offer him asylum.
What the literal Hell was the deal Crowley had made with Dagon?
1) Lyrics from Irving Berlin's White Christmas--the songs are Sisters and Count Your Blessings. We're apparently in the future as of writing this, as White Christmas doesn't open in the West End until October.
2) Thank you all for the support for this ridiculous pining fluff! I particularly enjoyed the responses to Sandalphon. ;)
3) Cleaned up the tagset a bit because I stopped trying to do Ineffable Husbands Bingo with this a while back, it took on a life of its own.
Chapter 14: Get the message through
Crowley deals with a demon, and talks to an angel.
"Hello, Anthony dear,” Nell said, when he knocked on their door. “Come right in.” He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. "Are you really going to wear those jeans to the theatre?"
Crowley absently clicked his fingers and his jacket was matched with immaculately pressed, although still tight, trousers. One of his favourite pairs, old reliables from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the familiar touch comforting. Perhaps he was more like Aziraphale than he pretended to himself.
Nell smiled at him as if seeing him perform magic in front of them was a small victory in some way. “What can I do for you, Crowley?"
Well, that was the thing.
It wasn’t like Crowley hadn’t imagined saying the words he was about to say. The first time he had felt them forming in his head, something barely acknowledged, had been during the travelling Zoo incident, when he’d looked into those multi-shaded eyes and seen Questioning. There had been other times… But Aziraphale, for all his self-indulgences, his small dishonesties, his devotion to kindness rather than morality, was so filled with light, so essentially incorruptible that Crowley had pushed the words aside again and again.
He remembered Tristan’s hard expression, and the look in Aziraphale’s eyes under the table. Crowley could trust Heaven, or he could trust Hell. He made a choice.
“Aziraphale may need asylum from Heaven for a while if shit goes down. Real asylum, no torture or interrogation, keep the hellfire away from him, until he can negotiate his way back. ” The next bit was even harder to say, with amused pale eyes shimmering at him. He took a deep breath. “If he actually Falls, will you request him for our team? If you guarantee he will be safe from torments and free to move about Earth and enjoy himself, I’m prepared to deal."
Dagon smiled like a piranha, scales glittering under their skin. “I thought you’d never ask. Let’s talk terms.” They settled on the edge of the bed. “They’re going to have to be pretty tough. Principalities go to Prince Verrier, you know that. I’ll owe her big if I steal one, and I’ll need something at least equally valuable to make up for it. What can a lowly demon out of favour with the Dark Lord possibly offer me?"
Crowley winced. “I was hoping you could tell me that. Dagon, what the fuck are you even doing here, hanging around my friend?"
Dagon laughed, and Crowley felt a stab of real fear. He clenched his fingers, and prayed to Satan, God and anyone else who could hear that it would be a price he could pay.
Perhaps Someone answered, because as Dagon explained, Crowley could feel gleeful laughter welling up in him.
Crowley, for a damned creature wedged between soldiers of Heaven, one of whom he was pretty sure would be happy to see him in a sulphur pit for eternity, and forced to watch what he was convinced was the most saccharine show in existence, was completely happy.
He didn’t see how he could be anything else. His head was snuggled against a welcoming shoulder, his hand enclosed in a firm grip. He wondered if Aziraphale actually realised he was tracing heart shapes on the back of Crowley's hand with his thumb. Intentional or not, it was so heart-stoppingly soppy and ridiculous that Crowley felt he was losing points with Hell by the second by putting up with it.
He would rather snooze on holy ground than pull his hand away. The freezing rage from Tristan beside him only added to his pleasure.
Crowley stopped even pretending to pay attention to the show. Instead he concentrated on the more interesting entertainment of trying to work out the exact cologne Aziraphale was wearing. It was one of his favourite games, using his enhanced snake senses to detect the perfume and then tease him about it. Every now and then he dropped off some expensive flacons to Aziraphale’s barber, an old acquaintance of his. This one—ah, this was one of his. Pears, for his pear-loving angel. Champagne, for the enchanting hedonist he was. Smoky vetiver for tradition, white flowers for purity. Crowley approved of the suitability of his own choice.
Aziraphale was somehow despite the situation, clearly managing to enjoy himself, his rich chuckle rolling out at the corny jokes. Adorable. Crowley could put up with musicals if he got to snuggle like this, even though he preferred concerts with actually decent music. They had been to so many concerts together, and he had savoured with the brushing of sleeves, the warmth of the plump body beside him, the chance to watch Aziraphale’s face transformed with bliss at the music. Funny how, in just a few days of closer contact, no touch seemed quite enough.
He’d known for a long time he was in love with Aziraphale. He had had centuries to get over being ashamed of the undemonic impulse and just accept it. In the last few days, though, it had shattered every restraint left in his blackened soul and he felt like he could do nothing but love, and want, and protect. He was so, so close to having everything he had ever wanted, so long as he managed not to fuck it up for once in his existence.
Every time Tristan moved or laughed, Crowley’s protective instincts flared up, and he tightened his grasp.
He didn’t actually realise that the first Act was over until the lights went up. He reluctantly lifted his head from Aziraphale’s shoulder, and Aziraphale smiled fondly at him. “Sleeping?"
He nodded, a bit too embarrassed to admit he’d just been sitting there adoring.
“You still have your glasses on, Anthony,” Tristan said.
Crowley shrugged. He didn’t even have the energy to come up with an excuse. Tristan—Sandalphon—knew exactly why, anyway.
He kept hold of Aziraphale’s hand as they trailed out. He was amused and a little relieved to notice that as soon as they reached the foyer Nell slid her arm through Aziraphale’s free arm. It was bizarre, when he thought about it, being pleased to see another demon hanging onto Aziraphale, but all he really cared about right now was that his angel had a guard.
He squeezed Aziraphale’s hand and dropped it. “Nell, Zira, would you mind picking up the interval drinks?” He was fairly sure Aziraphale hadn’t bothered to pre order, and equally sure they would be there waiting for them. “Tristan, come outside for a smoke."
“I don’t—“ Tristan caught his eye, and looked frowningly from Crowley to Aziraphale, standing arm-in-arm with Nell. “Zira, will you be all right if we go?"
“I’ll be fine with Nell,” Aziraphale said, smiling. “What could possibly happen to me here, you two mother hens?"
“He has a third mother hen right here, and she needs a drink,” said Nell, firmly. “Come on, Zira."
Tristan looked unhappy, but he nodded. “All right, outside."
Crowley grabbed his arm and pulled him outside. It was barely twilight—trust Aziraphale to pick a matinee rather than properly dramatic night time which would give him a demonic atmosphere—but the alley they turned into was miraculously empty. Crowley took his time sorting himself up and lighting up. Normally he would carefully position himself outside the door, as the only reason he smoked was to cause as much smell and inconvenience as possible to others, but he would have to be satisfied with just annoying Tristan.
“Any reason you’ve dragged me into an alleyway alone?” Tristan raised an eyebrow. “Your husband is right inside."
“It’s not for the purposesof seduction.” Crowley blew smoke into his face, and was glad to see him wince. Temple of the body, huh. “Although don’t get me wrong, I’d suck your cock here and now if it would keep you away from him. Would you like that?"
“You’re degraded and disgusting."
“True. I’m a demon. Degraded and disgusting is in my job description."
“Cards on the table, then?” Tristan seemed much less unruffled by this than Crowley’s offer.
“Oh, not all of them. I’m a demon, after all.” He took a deep draw, and was a little put out when Tristan raised a hand to prevent the smoke getting in his face again. Frivolous use of a miracle.
“Here’s my hand. I’m not going to let you or your evil friend harm our star Principality, you vile fiend.” Tristan’s mouth curled in a nasty smile.
Crowley blinked, glad the glasses hid his reaction. It really wasn’t what he had expected. “I have no intention of harming him. I would never harm him."
“Bullshit. I don’t know how you entrapped him,” Tristan said. “I’ve been trying to work out if he posed a risk himself, or was the victim of a plot. After all, my brother told me you seem to have convinced him that it was God’s will that you opposed the Great Plan, like the First Deceiver you are. And then there he was, hobnobbing with yet another demon in another village."
Fear gripped Crowley’s heart. “He didn’t plan that,” he protested.
“We wondered if he was being recruited. And then you turned up, claiming to be his husband, parading your sins, pawing all over him. Befouling his purity with your presence."
“Yerk,” said Crowley, trying to remain cool. “About that—"
“You can imagine what a relief it was when he invited me to his show along with these demons.” Tristan was smiling again, a cold, terrifying smile that sat oddly on his handsome features. “A clear cry to me for help."
“Oh, don’t play innocent, it's sickening in a demon.” Tristan leaned down and hissed into Crowley’s face, ignoring the smoke. “Whatever you have done to force that poor angel to pretend to be your husband, whatever hold you have on him, I will find it out, I will break it, I will present the evidence to Heaven and Hell and I will break you into so many pieces even your Master will take an eternity reassembling you. If he even cares to. Now, I’m going to make sure your friend does no wrong to my charge."
Tristan stormed back into the theatre, leaving Crowley really wishing he had paid more attention to the play. He put out his cigarette, careful to litter, miracled away any smell from his breath and clothes to avoid displeasing Aziraphale, and hurried in after him.
Tristan was smiling and debonair again, chatting to an obviously nervous Aziraphale, as they both cradled champagne. Crowley grabbed his own, grabbed Nell, and pulled them aside.
“What is this blasted musical about?"
Nell blinked. “Dunno. Something about soldiers and there was dancing and romance. I was too bored and revolted to pay much attention.” They shared a brief look of sympathy. “Why? Afraid your husband will give you a pop quiz and find out you’ve been drooling over him rather than paying attention? You are so whipped."
“I think it’s important. The plot, I mean."
“Okay, let me ask my host.” Nell’s expression changed, became haunted and terrified. “Please, some— No. None of that. I’ve been treating you well. You yell, your side of the bargain is over and you don’t get your reward, and I shave your hair before I let you have your body back. Just tell the nice gentlemen what this show is about. I know you know. Oh. Well, it’s about some ex-soldiers putting on a show to help revive the ski lodge of their old general. And they fall in love with some sisters who are helping them. That’s about it."
“That doesn’t sound very helpful,” Crowley frowned.
“Yeah, think harder. Oh! The younger sister wants to help get her older sister married, so she fakes an engagement.”
“Oh, bloody Heaven.” Crowley clutched his forehead. “And you can stop laughing!"
Nell, or rather Dagon back in control of Nell’s body, was giggling so hard they could barely stand up. “Do you think he chose the show on purpose, or is he just that clueless?"
“I have no idea. He can be pretty absent-minded."
“No kidding. I always liked him, though. He’s going to be wonderful at temptations once he’s Fallen and he’s on our team. Who could resist those guileless eyes?"
“He’s not going to Fall,” Crowley said through gritted teeth.
“Oh, you seem so confident now.” They drained their glass. “Didn’t seem quite so sure earlier this evening. Anyway, isn’t that what we’re intent on finding out? If your pure angel will Fall or not?"
“He won’t Fall. I was just purchasing insurance. Besides, I will be saved if I give Heaven the satisfaction."
Dagon just grinned at him, as the warning sounded to return to their seats.
Crowley stalked over, put his arm around Aziraphale and unceremoniously pulled him away from Tristan, planting a kiss on his lips. To his delight, Aziraphale’s lips parted willingly, enough to taste the champagne lingering on them, although when Crowley pulled away he saw the angel was blushing at the breach of social decorum. Crowley took the blush as a victory—even embarrassed, Aziraphale still responded.
“Still love me?” Crowley demanded.
“Yes,” said Aziraphale, his face as open as an over-involved manager’s doors, but far more beautiful. Crowley felt himself shatter inside, and it was all he could do to remain even remotely cool.
“Good. Because you’re stuck with me for eternity.” Crowley gave Tristan a defiant look, and headed back for the seats, pulling a stunned Aziraphale by the waist.
1) Sandalphon is traditionally considered the brother of the Metatron, not because of any blood and but because they were both of human origin. In book canon, for you series-only fans, it was the Metatron, not Gabriel, who turned up in the airbase.
2) The “Let’s pretend to get engaged!” scene from *White Christmas* is [here](https://youtu.be/bsRiFMhkiUo). It’s only three minutes, and worth watching. Basically it is fake dating/relationship/marriage between two people who are actually really into each other catnip.
3) Aziraphale is wearing *#355 Poirot* by Russian niche perfumier Le Ré Noir. As far as I know it won’t be released until later this year, but apart from the notes, I couldn’t resist going our clever, booking gourmand a fragrance named after a clever gourmand from a book.
4) Title from *What do I have to do?* by Kylie Minogue
Chapter 15: It's no secret
Leaving Aziraphale out of the equation is always a mistake.
Two demons and two angels walked from their theatre onto Tottenham Court Road. Any passers-by, if this hadn’t been London might have been curious to see the general shuffle around the short fair-haired man whose arm was being firmly gripped by the lanky ginger, and wondered why the elegant woman and distinguished middle-aged man were so determined to be the one closest to him, as if trying to defend him from the other. Fortunately, it was London, so everyone was pretending no other humans existed.
It wouldn’t even have occurred to them that no one in the small group was human.
Despite her smaller stature, the woman was wrigglier, and managed to slide her arm into his free elbow first.
A little flustered, Aziraphale said, “Well, we didn’t manage lunch, and I’m peckish, so I’ve arranged for early dining."
“Is that necessary, angel?” Crowley asked. “We can order… takeaway…” Aziraphale stared at up at him in horror as his voice trailed off. “I didn’t mean getting a dodgy curry, I meant… Oh, never mind. If we are all determined to carry on with this charade, early dinner it is. Where are we going?"
“Just this way,” Aziraphale said happily, and they made their way down the road, a little awkwardly considering the demon clinging to the angel on each side. Tristan loomed protectively behind.
Poor Aziraphale, Crowley thought, he must be feeling quite crowded out. He tightened his grasp anyway.
He was a bit shamefacedly relieved that they weren’t going to any of their usual haunts. The last thing he wanted to do was associate one of their date spots—and he was determined to think of them as date spots at least in retrospect—with bloody Sandalphon and Dagon. Actually, almost the last thing he wanted to do was dine with anyone but Aziraphale anyway. Pretty much anything was the last thing he wanted to do if it didn’t involve taking Aziraphale alone somewhere really slap-bang, spoiling him to death with the most stupidly indulgent food, wine and liquor he could order, asking him if he really did propose the fake engagement mostly to make Crowley fall in love with him, if it was even needed, and then drag him home and...
…no, probably not a good idea to spontaneously combust in front of the Master of Torments and an archangel.
Only a few minutes later he was in a candlelit wood-panelled dining room, trying to decide whether to sit opposite Aziraphale for maximum viewing pleasure or next to him for incidental hand-holding. He picked the latter, and Tristan flanked the angel, which meant that Crowley had to stare at his stupid handsome face all evening. By common unspoken consent, they allowed Aziraphale to order both food and wine. He addressed their waiter by name, with friendly familiarity. The food was probably quite good, then.
Crowley dived for Aziraphale's hand and held it very visibly and pointedly on the table for Tristan’s benefit. The waiter, whose name was Samir, looked Crowley up and down in a practised way and nodded approvingly. “Nice to meet you at last,” he said. “I would have known you straight away. Zira’s told me a lot about you."
Good heavens, excuse his French. Crowley glanced sideways at Aziraphale, who was blushing and avoiding his eyes, then conjured up his most charming smile. “Thank you for taking such good care of my husband,” he said, and was delighted to notice Aziraphale wriggle in something like happy panic. A country village where Aziraphale was playing house was one thing, but this was obviously a place Aziraphale went to regularly. This was dining. This was serious. Crowley thought it was a good idea to stake his claim.
“You ought to bring him to the theatre more often,” Samir said reprovingly. “Shame to leave a lovely man like that alone. Though with someone like you home, I suppose it’s no surprise he behaves himself. Lucky man."
Crowley didn’t usually notice waiters, except to be annoyed if Aziraphale abandoned all decorum and befriended them, but Samir was, he decided, a delightful young man. Especially as he could feel anger radiating from Tristan. Normally Crowley would have felt Samir was far too good looking to be on first name terms with Aziraphale, but this lad was obviously a sweetheart. “Oh, my Zira’s pretty much an angel anyway,” he crooned, squeezing Aziraphale's hand.
Aziraphale beamed. “Samir is an aspiring actor."
"I’m sure he will get a brilliant role very soon,” said Crowley firmly. He didn’t usually give blessings unless it was something he was trading off with Aziraphale, and giving one in front of Dagon was probably suicidal, but he did it anyway. This young man was going to rockhis next audition. “I just have a feeling.” He could do some random cursing on the way home to balance it out.
Samir gave him really quite an enchanting smile, gave an even more enchanting one to Tristan, and took their orders, or rather Aziraphale ordered for them all. Crowley sat in a kind of haze of smug bliss, wondering how many waiters and chefs in London had heard all about Aziraphale’s infernally handsome and charming—friend? Partner? Husband?
Tristan looked across from him and gave a snort that suggested that fake demonic sentiment didn’t work with him, and Crowley decided damn him—only hopefully not literally, because he did not want Sandalphon in Hell with him—he was going to watch Aziraphale eat aubergine and carrot cappuccino and sea trout and lemon tart and enjoy it, get comfortably sloshed, and try to salvage the rest of the evening.
“Do we really have to all pretend to carry on this farce to the point of playing Monopoly again?” Crowley demanded, as the soup was served. "Can’t we just eat, go home and talk like grown-up beings?
Aziraphale’s face crumpled wistfully. “I was looking forward to it. You never play Monopoly with me."
“Oh, you heartless demon,” said Nell, rushing to Aziraphale’s defence. “How could you let him down like that? Zira, darling, of course we will play as long as you like,” they said tenderly.
Tristan was turning over something in his hands that looked suspiciously like part of a waiter’s notepad, and which Crowley guessed had Samir’s number on it. He glared at it as if it was going to bite him. “Are you really surprised that Anthony lacks consideration for Zira?"
“I play chess with him,” Crowley said defensively. This was worse than he had been through in any dungeon interrogation. All three faces were turned accusingly at him. “And senet and petteia and go and mancala and—"
“Anything invented in the last few centuries?” Aziraphale asked icily, scooping up some aubergine foam with his spoon. There was a brief moment of reverent silence as he put the spoon in his lips and transferred the foam to his mouth, making a small noise of appreciation, before the conversation resumed.
“Angel, you are accusing me of not being up to date?"
“Didn’t you take credit for inventing modern family board games?” Nell asked, tapping a stern finger against Crowley's chin. “Shouldn’t you be regularly testing them?"
“There is a crisis hotline every Christmas for Monopoly related domestic disputes,” said Crowley, reflecting that this conversation had less and less pretence about their identities. "I deserved that commendation."
“That nice young man said you never take Zira to shows, either,” said Nell. Crowley started to plot bloody revenge against Dagon. “Sometimes I think you don’t appreciate what a lucky devil you are, having an angel devoted to you."
“I think Anthony prefers to play an entirely different kind of game to Monopoly,” Tristan said coldly. He ripped up the note. ”Like leaving his husband in the foyer and taking me outside to offer to perform depraved sexual acts."
Into the crashing silence, Nell asked, with great interest: “Ooh, any luck?"
“No,” Tristan said coldly.
Nell gave a disappointed shrug and stirred their soup with a portobello mushroom.
Aziraphale blinked, and blinked again. “That’s ridiculous.” His hand tightened on Crowley’s. “How could you even suggest such a thing?"
“I’m very sorry indeed, my friend,” Tristan said. “But I can’t allow this travesty to continue. I don’t know what he has done to keep you in his power, but perhaps knowing the truth will help you escape. I’m here to lend you any help you need."
“Angel,” Crowley said desperately, “It’s not like I actually expected him to say yes. I was trying to protect—"
“That," said Aziraphale, his voice falling into the room like something heavy dropped from high above, as the humans stopped moving and talking around them, “was a disgraceful way to behave."
“ Angel --"
“I think you should apologise to poor Sandalphon at once. And how exactly were you expecting to gain the consent of his host if he did say yes? It’s Tristan’s body!"
“I wouldn’t have minded,” Tristan said in a voice that was more like rich rum than the voice Crowley was used to. “Except that he’s your husband, love, and I wouldn’t want to betray a sweetheart like you. Mind you, you deserve someone nicer than that grouch. He is an attractive grouch, though."
Aziraphale beamed at him. “Thank you, dear. I think so too.” Crowley felt a shock of relief running through him. He couldn’t be in that much trouble, especially since Aziraphale was still holding his hand. On the other hand, was he agreeing that Crowley was attractive, or that he deserved someone nicer? "Ah, Sandalphon, are you still in there?"
“Still here,” Sandalphon said nastily. “And you have some explaining to do, Principality."
“We’ve all been rather inconsiderate of you, haven’t we, my poor fellow?” Aziraphale said, his brow wrinkling in sympathy. Through his confusion, Crowley was conscious of the fizzing bubble of delighted infatuation he felt every time Aziraphale took him by surprise. “I know from my own experiences with possession that it’s sometimes hard to keep your own thoughts and feelings completely apart from your host. I mean, I’m not sure how long you’ve been sharing Tristan’s body—a few days, now? I wish I was sure when there was a change."
“About a week.” Sandalphon heisted, and then admitted, “Tristan has been very helpful in keeping me in character."
“You’ve been here for a week ?” Dagon gasped. “But you’ve been answering your emails.” Sandalphon shot them a furious glance, and they laughed. “Really, Sandy.” Crowley filed that name away for future reference. "If you’re worried about a fellow angel finding out the advantages of exchanging notes with the other side, I think Aziraphale here is the least likely one to report you to a higher authority."
“You never told me you were downside either. How long have you been here?"
“ Upside. A couple of weeks. I’m a demon, I don’t have to be honest. And you didn’t even recognise me. I’m very hurt.” Dagon lifted their cup and drained the rest of their soup. “You don’t get cooking like this in Hell. Everything tastes like the walls."
“Try to avoid truffles,” Crowley advised, his voice only a little croaky.
“I’ll bear that in mind, snake."
“You didn’t recognise me either,” Sandalphon protested, a little defensively.
“Guys, could we save your domestic dispute for another time?” asked Crowley, and then regretted it as they both turned blazing expressions on him. He shrunk back against Aziraphale. "Sorry."
Aziraphale squeezed Crowley's hand reassuringly. “Things have been hard on you these last few millennia, haven’t they, Sandalphon?” he asked, gently. “Heaven isn’t always very understanding about these things. No wonder you get a bit smitey on occasion."
“I have no idea what you are talking about. When we get back to Heaven—"
“No rush for that.” Aziraphale delicately patted his mouth with his napkin. “You see, until I talked to Crowley, I had forgotten, and I suppose Heaven had too, that you were human once. Three and a half centuries in a human body, and plenty of children, and one for the lads, too, if I remember rightly. Then taken bodily up into Heaven, where there is no marriage or giving in marriage. Most of our original bodies weren’t built for it in any case, too many wings and flames and things, not so much of the other stuff. I don’t suppose anyone bothered to wonder if the lack of physical intimacy might be a problem for you."
Crowley gritted his teeth, waiting for the smiting. Maybe he could protect Aziraphale with his own body long enough for the angel to escape the planet. But there was only silence, as Sandalphon spluttered silently, until Dagon reached across for the archangel’s aubergine cappuccino.
“You’re not finishing that, are you? Mind if I have it?” Sandalphon shook his head in a dazed way, and Dagon claimed the soup.
“And then to be in a human body,” Aziraphale continued, his eyes welling up. "And I should say, a charming human that probably isn’t used to long stunts of chastity."
“Wasn’t having much luck with you, was I?” Tristan’s voice said. “Mind you, I didn’t know you were married."
“I apologise for being tactless. I’m not always very good at detecting flirtation,” Aziraphale said earnestly. Crowley choked a little, but didn’t dare say the words he was thinking aloud. "I have to say, it’s been difficult enough being in a corporation for all this time even without all that prior experience, although a lot of the feelings of temptation might be from being around Crowley too much.” Aziraphale flushed innocently. “He’s very good at being tempting."
Crowley felt he should say something. “Um. Thank you."
“You’re welcome, dearest. You don’t give yourself enough credit for being good at your job.” Aziraphale turned his radiant smile from Crowley to Dagon. “You must be very proud."
“Proud of Crowley? You must be off your rocker. I guess we already knew that by the way you’re hanging onto the idiot's hand. At least you’re cute.” Dagon finished the next bowl of soup and stared meaningfully at Crowley’s. Sighing, Crowley pushed his cup over. He’d lost his appetite anyway.
“It’s probably not much easier to find companionship in Hell,” Aziraphale said sympathetically. "I mean, I know sin is encouraged, but I can’t imagine any of you are keen on making yourself vulnerable to each other."
“You’ve got that right,” muttered Crowley. “Try explaining to your boss that you need a new cock because the last one got bitten off. Especially if your boss is a stingy fish like Dagon."
“I told you, you can’t have them unless you take proper care of them, or we’d constantly be supplying replacements. Corporation get awfully stroppy over single body parts. You'll just have to make do with only having one penis like everyone else, snake or not."
The demons turned to the angels, took in their expressions, and rolled their eyes in concert. “We’re joking,” they chorused.
“Right,” said Aziraphale, recovering himself. “Well. It must all have been very hard on you, Sandalphon, especially with us being so affectionate around you and making it all too clear what our arrangement is. I’m very sorry, dear fellow, that Crowley’s misguided offer made your feelings of frustrated needs worse."
“Angels don't have needs. I don’t have to listen to this blasphemous rubbish.” Sandalphon rose to his, or rather Tristan’s, feet, and stormed out.
“Oh, dear,” Aziraphale said, serenely sipping his soup. “He does seem a little upset. Give him time, my dear Dagon. It’s all going to have been a bit of a shock to him."
“Sandy’s always pissed off and finding mean ways to take it out on someone. It’s one of his best traits. I should have come to you from the start, not that useless serpent of mine.” Dagon leaned across and gave Aziraphale a hearty kiss on the cheek, and Crowley’s fist itched.
“My serpent, I think you’ll find,” Aziraphale said softly, and any remaining frustration Crowley was feeling dissolved at the melting look he was given.
“Yeah well, you’re welcome to him. Just as long as he gets that email in tonight. It had better be good, too, I sensed that blessing, and you’re going to suffer for it, Crowley."
Crowley nodded mutely.
Then Dagon was gone, and the humans resumed their chatter and movement, and Crowley was alone at the table with his angel, who was suddenly looking a lot less confident and a lot less certain of himself, almost as if his calmness had been an act.
“Crowley,” he said waveringly, staring at their linked hands. “You don’t mind that I spoke to Dagon in the interval and decided to take matters out of your hands?"
“Mind? You sneaky, brilliant bastard.” Not giving a fig for decorum or the feelings of the rest of the people in the room, Crowley reached across and kissed Aziraphale with all the hunger and fervour he had been holding back. Aziraphale sighed against his mouth and pressed the kiss back hard, tasting of rich earthy vegetables and cumin and of angel. When their lips parted, Crowley realised that not even that was enough to express all he was feeling, so he tried words once more:
“Marry me, darling?"
1) Sorry for the unusual delay on this chapter. It was taking an angsty turn, and it really wasn't working.
2) Also sorry for the lack of the boys alone in it. I promise I will make up for that next chapter...
Chapter 16: If love were liquid it would drown me
“Marry you,” Aziraphale said, his mouth dry despite the kiss. “You mean, really marry you. An eternal commitment."
“Marry you,” Aziraphale said, his mouth dry despite the kiss. “You mean, really marry you. An eternal commitment."
“Why not, you glorious bastard? You can’t pretend to be too nice or loyal to Heaven. Anyone who can make Sandalphon flee with his wings down would make a glorious husband for a demon.” The lines around Crowley’s mouth were crinkled with laughter. “Satan, I adore you."
Aziraphale wanted to say: Can't I just forget, for one moment, that we are on opposite sides? Do you have to remind me now, of all times? He wanted to say: If you had let me forget, I might have said yes. Even more, he wanted to say: Yes.
“Marry you,” he said. “That’s—that’s ridiculous."
The laughter died on Crowley’s face as if Aziraphale had pinched a candle, and it hurt, having caused that. “What?” His hand tightened on Aziraphale’s so much it was painful. “Isn’t this what you were planning all along? It worked."
“Planning,” he repeated.
“Yeah, planning. We just sat through that blessed musical, remember? I’m not stupid. It’s okay. I love it when you forget to pretend to be pure and artless.” The amusement was returning, and somehow that hurt, too.
“I should have told you that the real reason I asked you to pose as my husband was to find out if there was a demon investigating us,” Aziraphale said coldly. “I apologise for my lapse and I am very sorry if it gave you false expectations."
“Angel, you’re not serious."
“I am an angel."
Crowley’s face was expressionless now, his glasses reflecting Aziraphale to himself, so that the angel saw twice over how craven he looked, how prim and fluttering. Ridiculous that this demon in front of him could even want such weakness in his life; but then, Crowley was all alone, wasn’t he? Being a fallen angel was the definition of being love-starved. Watching him joke with Dagon had been the closest Aziraphale had ever seen him showing anything like affinity with anyone but himself, and he knew the two demons would throw each other to the Pits if necessary. No wonder Crowley clung to the only steady source of affection he had found since he had Fallen.
“Yes. Yes, you are an angel, and I no longer am.” Crowley said, his voice as blank and fragile as a piece of glass. “I think we established that long ago. It didn’t seem to make much difference when you were drawing hearts on the back of my hand a little while ago."
“Oh,” said Samir, collecting the soup bowls and beaming at them. They turned at him, startled by his presence. “Zira, you must be the softest thing in existence. Hearts.” Aziraphale and Crowley both turned bright red. “Did you scare your friends off by being too lovey-dovey?"
“Something like that,” said Crowley.
“Did the tall bloke—"
“In denial,” Crowley said cruelly. “Sorry, don’t wait for a call."
“Oh, you’re joking. He was broadcasting on all frequencies.” Samir seemed to have decided Crowley was a friend, which on other occasions would be charming. Right now, Aziraphale really wished the young man would leave.
“Bit of a split personality, that one,” Crowley said.”There are a lot of mixed signals around here."
“That lady wasn’t his wife?"
“Not yet,” said Crowley, and grinned nastily. “They’re working on it."
“Bloody hell. That’s what I get for chasing old guys.” Samir suddenly seemed to realise how unprofessional he was being, and also that he was not talking to a couple in the first flush of youth. “Ah, are they coming back? Should I cancel their orders?"
“I’m sorry, dear boy. Would you mind cancelling everything?” Aziraphale said. “I am so very sorry for the inconvenience. Please let the chef know that it was absolutely delicious and apologise for me."
“In a hurry to get home, are you?” Samir seemed on the verge of winking and saying Oo-er, missus, and Aziraphale was profoundly grateful he didn’t. “I’ll sort it. You’re a favourite here. Chef says he never feels as appreciated as when you’re dining."
“Thanks,” Crowley said briefly, and deposited what would be a frankly ridiculous amount of cash on the table even if all four of them had had three courses and expensive wine. Samir stared at him as if suddenly wondering if the two of them were mafioso. “Let’s go, angel.” He sprang to his feet and hauled Aziraphale to his, hustling him out with a hand around his elbow.
Neither spoke until they reached the Bentley. Crowley towed Aziraphale to the passenger side, opened the door and handed him in as if that was automatic by now, and then flung himself around the car and into his own seat. Then he laid his head against the steering wheel, his glasses hitting it with a thunk.
“I thought it was what you wanted,” he said. “I thought—oh, what does it fucking matter? I was being ridiculous."
Aziraphale was annoyed at his lips for being so human and corporeal and dry. He licked them, but his tongue felt like sandpaper. “Dearest, please don’t be like this.” He ached to reach over and ruffle Crowley’s hair, and clasped his hands together on his lap. “You seemed to be having fun."
“I was. More than fun, that’s the problem. What did you think was going to happen? We’d sort things out with the local demon, play some board games have the Christmas party, and I’d go back to London like nothing happened? Meet up for drinks and dinner sometimes, feed the flipping ducks? Just go on as usual?"
“I suppose I did. Well, not quite as usual. I’ve liked—I’ve liked being closer.” The understatement rubbed against his throat like a cheese grater.
“So we kiss goodnight and I get to be dearest instead of just dear, but otherwise business as usual? I thought you were enjoying having me around."
“I always do, Crowley. Always did."
“You kissed me. Properly. With no one to see. You said you love me.” Crowley’s head was still buried against the wheel.
“I do love you.” Why did he feel so wretched? He was saying something beautiful and perfect that he had longed to say for centuries, for thousands of years, knowing now it was wanted, and it hurt to say it. He had made a mess of things somehow instead.
“I love you. I’ve always loved you hopelessly,” Crowley said, and with his head against the steering wheel it looked and sounded like he was saying it to the Bentley, and it made a semi-hysterical strangled laugh make its way out of Aziraphale’s throat. “It’s not fucking funny."
“No, it’s not."
“It was easier when I didn’t have hope, rather than having it handed out and taken away again.” So bitter, and Aziraphale couldn’t find it in himself to produce enough salt to balance it, not when Crowley was so dear and so wounded.
Aziraphale sought an adequate apology, didn’t find one. Fell back on confession. “Dagon thinks I am going to Fall."
“What?” He finally lifted his head, pulled off his glasses, looked at him with bulging serpentine eyes.
“They said so when you were outside with Tris—with Sandalphon. They were quite nice about it. Said Hell’s not too bad, they’ll look after me, let my snake slither over me all I like—I’m sorry my dear, their words, not mine—all I like, not have to answer to Gabriel anymore. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too bad.” He swallowed. “That thought is the worst of all, really. How mixed up have I become that that doesn’t seem too bad as long as I get to be with you? Crowley, I love being an angel. I don’t want to go back to Heaven, harps never suited me, but I love being an angel among humans. Maybe I’m just selfish."
“You’re not going to Fall,” Crowley said, grasping his shoulder. “I won’t let you."
“You say that as if you had any control over it.” Aziraphale sighed. “You’re not exactly on the Board of Light. We’re pushing things as it is. Even further if we became more—physical. Marriage would be something else, though. Marriage would be a clear choice. Choosing a demon over Heaven.” He swallowed. “Which is exactly why you want it, am I right? To force the choice."
“And you’re not ready for that.” Crowley reached out, and with that the terrible sense of distance between them was gone, Aziraphale was cradled close, lips against his forehead, and he was forgiven. An angel forgiven by a demon. Aziraphale's heart ached with the strange twisted Grace of it. He slipped his hands under the folds of the new red silk scarf, spread his fingers against Crowley’s firm chest, trying to project his warmth through the thin shirt. For a moment he felt the burning bite of the chain hidden under Crowley’s shirt. Then Crowley shifted slightly and he couldn’t feel it anymore.
“Maybe you never will be ready,” Crowley said. "But so long as you love me, it’s all right. For Hell’s sake, as long as you tolerated me being around and smiled at me sometimes I could bear it. This is more than I ever hoped for."
“More than I hoped, too."
“I always was a greedy bastard. Invidia. Hard to be proud of being sinful when it hurts so fucking much to want what you can’t have."
“Not your fault. I should have realised what I was asking. I mean, it’s not unheard of for demons to marry humans, even though it doesn’t usually end up well. It’s your lot that have the hang up about nothing getting between you and the Almighty, even though I don’t think She ever actually bothered to say anything on the matter. And I guess the Nephelim thing traumatised everyone."
“Poor Sandalphon,” Aziraphale said absently.
“You were awfully cruel in your gentle way. It almost made me feel sorry for him,” Crowley said, then said in a slightly different tone of voice, “Sandalphon. I had forgotten Sandalphon."
“How could you?"
“Well, not precisely forgotten but—listen, Aziraphale, this is important. Don’t confuse Dagon being nice to you with Dagon being kind. Don’t confuse Dagon being pleasant company when they want to with Dagon being good. Especially, don’t confuse Dagon liking you with Dagon not being happy to watch you burn in hellfire for eternity. They are the Master of Torments. They enjoy suffering. But they are also the Lord of the Files, and they keep their contracts."
“I always thought that was an odd combination."
“How can you say that, my lazy darling angel? You hate paperwork worse than any other torture.”
Aziraphale sighed, and Crowley kissed his hairline with fierce affection. “I’ll do all your paperwork forever if it will make you happy, sweetheart."
“You will not. I have not had an error in my taxes in all the time I have paid them. You’re not getting near them."
“My point. You have derailed my point. My point is that I’m not on the Board of Light, Sandalphon is."
“How is that your point?” Aziraphale asked, a little aggrieved. "You were talking about Dagon. Dagon’s not a Board Member."
“Who else is on it right now?"
Aziraphale wriggled around a bit. He was uncomfortable anyway, leaning across the car seat like that. Turning slightly to face away from Crowley, feeling arms wrapped around his chest, felt comfortable and protected, loved the contrast between his body and Crowley’s sharp angles. So many new ways to be close, so many ways to have contact and show affection, and how could he give them up? He lifted his hands and began to count.
“The Metatron is the Head of the Board and Recording Angel. Then Gabriel."
“Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Saraqael, Raguel and Remiel.”
“Michael used to be a friend of mine, which is not a good thing. I don’t know that she won’t take the chance to squash me like a bug.” Crowley frowned, no doubt thinking of all the art of Michael vanquishing serpents. “Uriel is as hard as fucking iron."
“Really, Crowley, language. She’s the Prince of Repentance, you know."
“Only helps if we actually repent, which is of no good to us. I’m damned—blessed—extinct if I repent of wanting you. And she’s also Lord of Tartarus, had you forgotten?” He frowned. “Raguel is a bastard. Don’t know Saraqael or Ramiel or—well, I met the Metratron at Tadfield, probably not our biggest fan. That kid’s right, he sounds like a Transformer. Don’t know why I didn’t know him before."
“He’s Sandalphon’s twin brother."
Crowley remembered the beautiful youth made of blue fire. “You’re kidding me."
"Caused a bit of a ruckus when the Almighty appointed him Highest Angel and Voice of God, I can tell you."
“No way. So after asking us to venerate the humans caused the mass Fall, She just went ahead and appointed a human Highest Angel? Wow, She really likes to sprinkle salt in wounds."
“Perhaps it was a test,” Aziraphale said uncomfortably, feeling as always that this irritating red-headed thing had a talent for voicing thoughts he tried not to have. “Crowley, you really can’t be thinking about facing down the Board of Light."
“Nah. Just insurance."
“You and your insurance.”
“Believe me, darling, live in Hell long enough and you get used to arranging insurance for every possibility. At least Dagon taught me that. Always have fallbacks."
Aziraphale sighed and lifted Crowley’s hand, kissed the knuckles one by one, feeling the longing bloom in his own heart with each kiss. “Beloved, this isn’t… I know you are an optimist, but really…” The sadness swelled along with the longing. "So, what do you want to do now? We can’t sit here forever,’’ he added, although actually he didn’t want to move, not while he was being held.
“I think most of my plans for the night are out of the window. I’m assuming you aren’t up for being taken back to the flat and letting me have my way with you until you scream to the heavens."
“Crowley,” he protested faintly, trying not to respond too much.
“Worth a shot. Sit up a sec, angel, I’m texting Dagon."
“Hmm?” It wasn’t what he had expected, certainly not with the steely determination in Crowley's voice. He pushed himself to give Crowley access to his phone. “Why?"
“Dagon would love you to Fall, especially if they get some of the credit. A real fang in their maw, a new Fallen angel. But there’s something they want more."
“The contract,” Aziraphale said suspiciously, worrying once more.
“I told you, it’s hilarious. I just need permission to tell you some of it.” Crowley's phone clanged like the gates to Mount Etna and he checked the screen. “Right.” There was a grin behind the words. Not a nice one. “I’m going to have to do a bloody twelve-page report as my email to make up for it, but I’ve got the go-ahead. Angel, you’re the being of love. You must have done matchmaking before. How do you feel about helping a demon seduce an angel?"
Aziraphale blinked, confused. “I’ve been trying pretty hard not to help, despite your efforts."
“Wrong demon and angel.” Crowley was grinning. “Didn’t you wonder why Dagon was so very interested in our mar—“ He bit the word down hard. “Relationship,” he amended, in a more subdued way.
“They are both vicious sadists, obsessed with smiting and torments. Match made in Heaven and Hell, I’d say."
“You’re saying Dagon is in love with Sandalphon?"
“I wouldn’t go that far. Let’s just say that Dagon really likes the idea of getting with an angel, and they and Sandy have a lot in common."
Aziraphale didn’t want to have the thought, it seemed far too, well, demonic. It voiced itself anyway. “If Sandalphon compromises himself, we might just have a reluctant ally. And if the Metatron is loyal to him…"
“Now you’re talking.” Crowley twisted with inhuman litheness until he was lying halfway across his lap and facing up at him. “Kiss me again, angel? You can give me that much."
Aziraphale bent his head and kissed him. It wasn’t like kissing earlier in the master bedroom, or even across the table. He could feel Crowley’s restraint, the fear of deepening too much or demanding too much, restricting the kiss to the careful movement of lips. Somehow the maddening softness of it was even more like liquid fire, tempting Aziraphale to respond with ferocity and claim the demon’s mouth, to break down both of their control, to kiss and kiss until they forgot all prudence, forgot that they were practically in public, cast away all thought of consequences...
Temptation. That was the whole problem. He broke away with a gasp, and Crowley hissed as if in pain.
“Raphael,” Aziraphale said.
“What? If you are calling out a bloody angel’s name, then—"
“Hush.” Aziraphale kissed the corner of his mouth, chastely and gently. “Don’t be silly. You’re all I want in the world."
Crowley blinked, looking somewhere between reassured and collapsed into a puddle. “Then why?"
“I think,” Aziraphale said, “something might be done with Raphael."
1) The list of angels is taken from the list of archangels/princes in the Book of Enoch.
2) Speaking of which, the Metatron should have been Enoch. Sandalphon, the other twin angel, should have been Elijah. Oops. Oh, well.
3) Title, continuing the "This is a Dagon fic so every chapter has to be Kylie Minogue lyrics" theme, is from Chocolate.
4) Speaking of which, a fair amount of excised text from a first draft from this chapter is going to end up in an already half-written one or two shot (no, seriously, not 15+ chapters) with the boys + Dagon because OMG they are fun to write.
Chapter 17: To be hailed as a hero, branded a fool
When in doubt, Aziraphale pulls out his books and does research.
Crowley is not great at self-denial. He's better at being a rescuer.
Crowley tried to stand still without drifting or circling too much as Aziraphale handed him down additions to the growing stack of books in his arms. “I don’t even know what we are doing back here."
“Research, dear. On demon spouses."
“I’m not sure Dagon has marriage in mind. Besides, you know I could just go straight to the source? I’ve got Osmedai and Lilith’s numbers in my phone contacts."
“I don’t think we should involve Hell any more than we have already."
“Why not? They’ll think it’s hysterical."
“That’s exactly my point. I’m not exposing Sandalphon to any more ridicule than is strictly necessary. He is still part of my team and a fellow angel, whatever you may think of him."
“Sodom really was pleasant in the winter,” Crowley muttered, and Aziraphale sighed, his air of self-righteousness fading a bit. “What’s this one? Демон. My Russian is a bit rusty, but that’s clear enough.” He set the pile of books down and sat in an armchair, opening a slim volume bristling with bookmarks.
A fallen angel once was winging
over a sinful Earth his way
And memory was ever bringing
the vision of a happier day
Telling an unforgotten story
How once in realms of light and glory
A seraph pure and bright he shone[^1]
“Perhaps not that one, my dearest,” Aziraphale said gently, climbing down and taking the book from him, before returning to the stepladder and replacing it on the shelf.
“Didn’t like shining much anyway,” he muttered. “Terrible aesthetic. Like fairy lights."
“You were beautiful then and you are more beautiful now, and that is a silly poem and won’t help us. Here, hold these.” Aziraphale passed over a heap of paperbacks, and Crowley accepted them meekly, feeling like steam was coming out of his ears.
He tried to distract himself by reading the titles of the lurid volumes.
“Demons in my Marriage Bed; Total Deliverance from Spirit Wives and Husbands: Sex Demons of the Night; Total Deliverance from Spirit Husband and Spirit Wife, Incubus and Succubus Demons: Incubus Demons and All Sex Demons of the Night; Be Free From Spirit Spouses; Deliverance from Incubus & Succubus: Sex Demons of the Night. Ah, there seems to be a theme here.” He bit his lip. “Either you are even more determined not to marry me than I thought, or I’m going to have to pop down to Temptations and start strangling some incubi with their own bloody… ah, tails."
“You know I collect unusual religious texts."
“For spicy reading at night, it seems. Anyway, I think this is exactly the wrong theme. Shouldn’t we be looking for books encouraging sex with demons? I think that’s what you should be collecting anyway. I could help you start a collection.” He leered, but the effect was a bit wasted as Aziraphale had his back turned.
“I thought it might be useful to learn some of Sandalphon’s defences to demonic seduction beforehand so we can develop some strategies to get around them,” Aziraphale said serenely.
“Aziraphale, that is one of the least angelic things I’ve ever heard you say,” Crowley breathed, nearly overcome. To prevent himself from flinging himself at Aziraphale and risking a nasty tumble, and aware that his chances of a nicer tumble were currently quite low, he returned his attention to the books.
“Seven Ways Demons Enter a Person and Ten Ways How They Exit. Well, not many points for grammar, but the theme is promising. Want a read, angel?"
"A powerful group of the evilest demons out of hell have been prowling the earth for ages, tormenting mankind under the cloak of invincibility and darkness. Seriously, you’d think I wasn’t the only one doing any work Up Here this century, the way these humans carry on. How to break demonic contracts—oh, good luck with that, this is Dagon we are talking about."
“You’re right, though, I don’t think the dear thing is necessarily aiming at marriage."
“Angel, you clearly have no idea how weird it is hearing you refer to Dagon as a dear thing.” He pouted at Aziraphale’s back. “I don’t mind you calling humans dear, at least not much, but I get to be your only dear demon."
“Oh, dearest,” Aziraphale said, coming down from the stepladder at last, and backing up the dearest with an embrace. Crowley made an inarticulate noise and buried his face in Aziraphale’s neck, breathing in his scent for a moment, feeling enveloped in sturdy heat. He wished Aziraphale had changed back into cashmere after the disastrous dinner, so there were fewer layers, more softness between him and the warm softness that was Aziraphale. He supposed they should go back to the homestay flat; Aziraphale actually bought his clothes and would want his things. But he just wanted to stay in the bookshop, where there would be no intruders at night.
“Thanks for doing this, angel,” he said. “I’m rubbish at research. And I know you have a lot more to lose than I do."
“I’m not so sure about that. What do you have to lose? Because I don’t believe Dagon makes contracts without advantage. You have permission to tell me now?"
Crowley winced. “Two centuries of filing in the archives. Dagon is always short on staff. Remember those documents you gave me on every known cataloguing system on Earth? Dagon decided they were too simple and invented their own.” He decided it was better not to mention that Dagon also thought it was amusing to hide ichor-sucking worms among the stacks.
Instead, Crowley pressed closer into the embrace, winding his arms around Aziraphale’s waist, marvelling at how naturally his arms seemed to settle above cushioned hips, as if the Almighty had planned their corporations to fit together, blasphemous thought. “Two hundred years is nothing, considering how long we have,” he said. It was a lie, now that he had permission to hold hands and hug and kiss goodnight, even a few hours apart seemed longer than millennia before. “And you’ll be safe whether Dagon gets his way or not, whether you Fall—and you won’t Fall—or not."
“Oh, darling. You promised all that filing just to protect me?” Aziraphale leaned back a little, looked up at him, the lashes above perfect water-coloured round eyes fluttering shyly and adoringly, and the blood left Crowley’s head with a rush.
“I’ll always protect you, Aziraphale,” he breathed, saying what he had always tried to communicate without words and was now free to say. "You should know by now that there is nothing I won’t do to keep you safe and happy, angel. I learned to make you tea just how you like, I drove through fire for you. I’ll do anything."
“My miraculous rescuer,” sighed Aziraphale, as if it was also words held incompletely below the surface for centuries, and his mouth lifted, lips parting enticingly, just the hint of a visible tongue touching them.
Aziraphale saying those exact words with that expression had haunted Crowley's fantasies for millennia and now it was not only real but accompanied by arms around each other and chests pressed close and he should step away right now before it became too obvious what kind of fantasies they were and what they led to, his body was already responding out of long habit. He needed to release his grip on this perfect soft waist, respect the safe boundaries they had established, and douse himself with infernal cold water before...
Aziraphale tipped his face up further and brushed his lips against his and Crowley had just enough thought left to wonder if this hadn’t been just his fantasy before he was clutching Aziraphale’s waist closer and pushing his lips apart with his and kissing him as if he was starving, starving for the velvet mouth, the contact between them, the incredible heady feeling of being admired and longed for and needed, oh by existence needed so much and by Aziraphale, his golden, clever, brilliant, kind, frustrating, joyful—
“My—“ Crowley whispered against Aziraphale’s mouth and wasn’t sure what was going to come next because there were too many words, my love, my friend, my angel, my everything. Before his stumbling tongue could find the right word, Aziraphale responded even more quietly:
And he was gone, he was lost, crowding Aziraphale against the bookshelf, kissing him over and over, hoping the angel would have some control because he couldn’t. Not as long as beloved hands were catching in his hair, lips still parting eagerly, a cushioned hip pressed against him where he was aching and twitching and Satan, oh Satan, he could feel for one moment his thigh brushing against answering heat and hardness. To finally know for sure his desire was matched, his perfect angel wanted him as well. Crowley was in danger of coming untouched, it was all too much...
...too much. Aziraphale had been clear about wanting to be able to say no if Heaven asked. Crowley yanked his mouth away and managed to gently knock Aziraphale’s hands aside, stepping back, gasping for breath, willing a quick miracle.
Crowley barely bent nearly double with his hands on his thighs, pulling himself back under control, and despite himself, he began to laugh. He calmed down under Aziraphale’s outraged look, as the angel straightened his clothes and, presumably, fixed his own problem. “Sorry, angel. But maybe the books are a waste of time "
“Really, Crowley, I—“ And then the laughter bubbled up in Aziraphale as well. “Maybe Dagon could offer to file for Sandalphon.” That set Crowley off again, and the two of them laughed, close to tears. for a moment Crawly was afraid they were hysterical. He looked up and saw the warmth in Aziraphale’s eyes and realised it was all right.
“It’s a point, though. Maybe we need to put Sandalphon in danger so Dagon can, um."
“Saunter in like a big bad demon and save him?” Aziraphale asked innocently.
“Um. Yeah. Only… If Dagon sees an angel in trouble, they would probably just laugh."
“They seem quite protective of me."
“If you go all wide-eyed like that at the thought of Dagon protecting you I’ll—“ Crowley’s brain caught up in time for once and warned him that jokes about divorce would be ill-timed. “Never rescue you again."
“You don’t mean that,” Aziraphale said happily. “My hero."
“Satan, don’t start that again, I’ll discorporate."
There was a knock on the door. Crowley started to helpfully yell “We’re closed,” but Aziraphale hushed him with a finger over his lips.
“Backroom,” he hissed.
“I think it’s Raphael."
"I wasn’t expecting her until tomorrow. Backroom."
Crowley gave him a terrified look, but Aziraphale could presumably sense angelic presence better than he could, so he fled and switched into his tallest snake shape for good measure.
“Raphael, my dear. So good of you to come,” Aziraphale was saying, nervous and flustered, but less so than Crowley would expect him to be when talking to an archangel. He racked his brains, trying to remember anything about Raphael, but kept being distracted by the reasons Raphael was his favourite Ninja Turtle.
“Hello, Aziraphale. So what is so important that you can’t talk to me about upstairs?” She didn’t sound particularly annoyed, and definitely not austere. She sounded, well, buoyant with curiosity. “And why aren’t you offering me tea? Gabriel says you always offer tea."
Aziraphale sighed, huffed, stuttered a bit, and then said a bit weakly, “Would you be horrified if I said, forbidden love? Between an angel and a demon?"
Crowley’s little snake heart almost stopped. He hadn’t expected Aziraphale to be so direct. He had expected him to dance around the subject, making tea in the kitchenette. He was going to come right out and say Dagon had a crush on Sandalphon. Raphael was going to start smiting any minute.
“Ooh. Tell me more.” He could hear a grin in her voice, which was the last thing he expected. “You kissed the demon Crowley, right?"
Aziraphale spluttered, and Crowley went into automatic defence mode, switching to human form and stumbling out of the back room, ready to fling himself protectively between them. He had just a moment to take in the sight of a curvy redhead before a flash of lightning came down from the ceiling. Smiting already… no, wait.
No smiting. Angelic presence. The lightning formed into a tall, willowy figure, elegantly and austerely clad in grey.
“Raphael, Aziraphale, what is going on here?” An eyebrow arched in severe inquiry. “Why are you here, demon?"
It was all too much.
“Mummy?” he croaked. Then, as three aghast angels turned to him, he made a desperate attempt to pull himself together.
“I mean, greetings, archangel Michael."
[^1: Mikhail Lermontov, The Demon, 1839. Long poem depicting the tragic love story between a demon and a human girl. The demon falls madly in love with her, but when she finally kisses him, she dies—God forgives her because she was loving, and an angel carries her to Heaven, leaving the demon alone for eternity without hope of love. Using Robert Burness’s translation.
1) I am stealing the magnificent casting of Raphael as Catherine Tate from Captain LeBubble’s brilliant Plan Me No Plans which you should read because it will give you every kind of joy. Thank you, dearest!
2) Many angels were born from Michael’s tears. Many thanks to my beloved Wattpad Good Omens fam for requesting that Crowley therefore accidentally addresses her as Mummy.
3) Title from Dreams (of an Impossible Princess). Kylie Minogue, as usual, because Dagon.
Chapter 18: Nothing left to hide
The boys get engaged.
“So that is the demon serpent, who brought evil into the world, has tormented it for millennia, and helped thwart Armageddon?” Raphael asked, with interest, looking at the vaguely human shaped being curled into a foetal position on the couch.
Aziraphale handed her a cup of tea. “Yes, I’m afraid so."
“And he’s one of yours, Michael?"
“My treacherous child, born from my tears at the beauty of the universe,” she said coldly. “A disappointment."
Crowley whimpered, and Aziraphale sat beside him and patted his back soothingly. “I made you some tea, if you uncurl a bit. Why didn’t you mention that Michael was your parent?” He looked as sternly as he could manage at Michael. “And that was a little unkind, my Lord."
“I always wondered how that worked,” Raphael said, obviously trying to soothe things over. “Did you start crying and your tears just turned into flaming serpents and things? Must have been a shock. I would've wet myself."
Michael’s serenity flickered just a little. “I did not question the Almighty’s judgement. We needed more staff. We had a lot of galaxies to create just then.” She sipped her tea. “Is it supposed to taste like this?"
“I can add milk and sugar, if you like,” Aziraphale said, wringing his hands apologetically.
“Would that help?"
“It’s delicious,” Raphael said firmly, taking a brave sip and shuddering slightly.
“Aziraphale, why are you stroking a demon’s back?” Michael asked coldly. “You are not a fallen angel. Yet."
Aziraphale withdrew his hand guiltily. “Compassion is a virtue?” he suggested.
“Come on now, Michael, he’s not the only one with contacts Down There,” Raphael said cheerfully. “We’re all on the same side—well, not the same side, exactly, but we’re all doing our bit in the Almighty’s plan."
Aziraphale expected Michael to object. Instead she looked down for a brief second, and then up. “I know that word from above was that neither of them were to be punished, so I admit that… they might be acting in accordance with the Ineffable Plan.” She sighed. “Aziraphale, beloved Principality, you should have confided in us."
“I tried.” And then, not knowing where the courage had come from, “Crowley was the only one who cared. And some humans."
“I would've listened,” Raphael objected.
“I’m sorry, my Lord. You were busy preparing the Last Trumpet anyway. I tried going higher."
The other two angels exchanged glances, and Raphael mouthed “Metatron, honestly, what a wanker," at Michael, who drew herself up with even more dignity and pretended not to notice.
“Anyway. Ah. Speaking of fallen angels.” Aziraphale took a deep breath. “Are carnal relations in themselves considered a problem under current thinking?"
The shape on the couch next to him tensed.
Raphael’s shoulders started to shake. “What—what have you two—oh dear. I mean, I figured you had to be closer friends than you should, you were holding hands at the air base, but… You’re shagging?"
Aziraphale found himself sitting next to a very embarrassedly hissing snake, which made Raphael laugh even harder. Michael, on the other hand, arched both eyebrows, the final sign of outrage and incipient smiting.
“No!” Aziraphale said hastily. “The closest we have come has been kissing each other’s mouths, which you know as well as I do is a perfectly acceptable and chaste form of greeting and respect among humans.” I was perfectly true, he told himself, and he couldn’t expect two pure angels who resided in Heaven to know much about the difference between human degrees of kissing. Michael and Raphael popped down more than the others, perhaps, but to deliver messages and rescues rather hang around and make best friends with tight trousers and distractingly swishy gaits. He tried to ignore the quirk of Raphael’s lips.
“You’re not meant to respect demons in the first place,” said Michael. “You’re meant to thwart them. Preferably wrestle them and cast them down into pits of fire. I can give you lessons, if you like."
Crowley slithered onto Aziraphale’s lap and wrapped around his arm, and Aziraphale petted him protectively.
“Oh, give it a rest, Mikey,” said Raphael. “We can’t all be the Invincible Prince and Terror of the Evil Spirits like you. Look at Aziraphale, do you think he could cast anyone into pits of fire, especially this sweet little serpent?” She reached over and tickled Crowley’s giant nose with a fingertip. He looked at her as if contemplating biting her, and Aziraphale hastily soothed him with two fingers down his spine.
“Demons are our siblings still.” Aziraphale took a deep breath. “Your child, Father of Angels."
“My traitor,” Michael said bitterly. “Who took other brothers and sisters and children down with him with his silver tongue and questioning. And now we may lose you to him as well."
Aziraphale took a deep breath. “Well, that’s the question. I’m asking for—for a friend.” Truthfulness caught up at last, and he added: “And myself."
Michael sighed. “Aziraphale, I’m sorry we’ve left you on Earth so long. Having a body for all his time must be a burden to you. Perhaps it is time to bring you home."
“No—no. The Almighty was very clear about the role she wanted for me. And,” Aziraphale said, amazed at his own courage, “I have to say I’ve carried it out very well despite the active non-assisistance of Heaven in thwarting the Antichrist."
The two archangels exchanged glances once again. Aziraphale noted with interest that there seemed to be a lot of sympathetic glance-exchanging between them.
“God does seem to be quite happy with the way things shook down,” Raphael said. “And as Guardian of Humanity and Angel of Science and Knowledge, I have to admit it was my preferred outcome as well. Hey, Aziraphale, how come Gabriel got you? You seem more like my match. Look at all these lovely books.” She reached out, picked up a volume, and stared at the title. How to Tell if You Have a Demonic Husband or Wife. Um, Aziraphale, are you currently under any doubts?” She flipped it open. “Oh, look, here’s some signs. Smelly private parts. Well, I’m not going there. Dreaming of shopping, making breakfast or sitting on a throne. Really?” Aziraphale tried not to think of Crowley’s throne. "Unexplained rudeness and toughness towards anyone of the opposite sex that may be attracted to you."
“I try never to be rude to anyone who is attracted to me,” Aziraphale said stiffly.
“Jussst obliviousssss,” hissed Crowley.
“Thank you for joining the conversation at last, demon,” said Raphael. 'You know, you could just tell the poor boy whether you’re married to him or not so he doesn’t have to go through books to find work it out. Or isn’t that properly demonic? Oh, look, it says here that up to 70% of Christian women unknowingly have demonic spouses. That can’t be right, can it? Even if they accidentally added a zero. There’s way more humans than there are hosts."
“Please stop reading that nonsense, Raphael,” said Michael. “Aziraphale, I’m ashamed of you for owning it."
“I like books,” said Aziraphale, aware it was somewhat like saying he liked existing.
“Unexplained wedding ring.” Raphael’s hand unexpectedly darted out and caught Aziraphale’s, examining it carefully, as if she was peering under the skin. “Hmm, nothing there. Guess you’re fine."
“What if there had been?” Aziraphale asked carefully.
“Angels don’t get married, sweetie.” Raphael patted his hand sympathetically. "There’s no marrying or giving in marriage in Heaven, although it looks like Hell is right into it, looking at these books."
“I don’t reside in Heaven."
“That’s beside the point,” said Michael, although she looked oddly unsettled for her. “Why-why would an angel even want to get married?” Not just unsettled. Almost flustered.
Aziraphale hadn’t hung around with Crowley for thousands of years without picking up the ability to ask awkward questions. “But it’s just a tradition. There’s no actual rule against it, is there? We already make an exception for the Swedenborgians."
“Luxuria is a mortal sin,” said Michael, with strange gentleness. “We can’t risk your precious soul."
“It’s only luxuria if it interferes with the love of God,” Aziraphale argued desperately. "But if desire is part of love of the magnificent creations of the Almighty, isn' it different?"
“This is my authority area as Angel of Love and Joy,” Raphael said. “I say, go for it. If you come up against the Board of Light, you have my vote."
“Raphael,” said Michael helplessly.
“Oh, come on, darling. We might reform a demon. Can’t see anyone being devotedly loved by this creampuff without showing a bit of a spark of goodness. And—he betrayed Satan."
“He’s a demon. Betrayal is in his nature."
“He was an angel once. Your child. Look, at least let me ask Daniel. Not much good me being the supervisor of the Angel of Marriage if I can’t even ask him for blessing on a marriage."
“Daniel is not on the Board. He’s not even an archangel. He’s a Principality."
“Yeah, and so he knows more about human customs like marriage than us. Come on, Mikey. We could at least ask. Michael the Merciful, Prince of Mercy,” she added in a pleading, sing-song tone.
There was a long silence, in which Aziraphale noticed that Raphael was grasping Michael’s hand rather warmly, looking at her with long, copper-ringed green eyes, and then suddenly Michael relented. “We can talk to him. Aziraphale—I advise you to wait for holy marriage, if marriage to a demon can even be considered holy. At least sex within marriage is more likely to be sanctified than, sex in, ah..."
“The course of normal daily activities like unshelving books?” Aziraphale swallowed hard. “What a ridiculous idea. I’m an angel."
“Idea wouldn’t even occur to us. Thank you for the tea,” Raphael said warmly. “We’ll let you know how it went. Don’t do anything funny without checking in.”
The lightning flashed, and they were gone, apparently not hearing Aziraphale’s hurried, “But what about my friend?”
Or maybe one of them had. Raphael returned suddenly and said, “Whisper your friend’s name in my shell-like ear?"
She spluttered a bit in embarrassment, but then suddenly breathed, “Ohhh. Oh, the human. I see,” and vanished.
Aziraphale stared at the point where she had been.
“Crowley, my dearest,” he said softly, “I think we possibly may have made the first steps towards permission to get married."
The snake reformed quickly into a lanky figure on his lap, hands gripping his forearms, face inches from his own and looking into his eyes with burning golden ones. “You will, then? If you have permission?"
“Crowley, yes of c—“ Aziraphale's words were muffled by Crowley’s lips and tongue, and he had just enough awareness left to be glad that he didn’t actually have to breathe as he was pressed back against the couch.
“Love me?” Crowley demanded.
“Mine?” His voice was fervent and possessive, but there were little lines of anxiety around his eyes, as if he wasn’t sure, even now.
“Yes,” Aziraphale whispered, tracing his mouth gently with a fingertip.
“Then even if they say no, even if this is all I have, I am happy.” Crowley wound his arms around his neck and buried his face against his hair. “Even if all I can do is buy you dinner and make you tea and love you for an eternity, I’m happy, as long as you want me."
Aziraphale kissed him, very tenderly and slowly this time, exploring his mouth gently with his tongue. Time seemed to flow into honey, slow and languid, focusing on the closeness, the freedom to be affectionate and loving. Crowley echoed his pace, and they kissed and kissed. They only paused when the phone in Crowley’s pocket began to ring. Aziraphale was guiltily aware that he detected it from the vibration before the ringtone, and that his hands must have wandered more than he meant.
“Oh, fuck, that’s Dagon’s ringtone again. Gotta get that. Hang on."
Still on Aziraphale’s lap, he pulled it out, his other hand caressing up and down Aziraphale’s forearm as if his arm was somehow the most enticing and desirable thing in the world.
“Yeah… yeah... You are a bastard, you know that, Lord? Nah, haven’t seen Sandalphon. Yeah, use the flat, we’ll pick you up in the morning. Just lose the Monopoly set. I told you I’d do it. Fine, yeah, ciao.” Crowley tossed the phone across the sofa, and leaned his head against the top of Aziraphale’s, cursing.
“Yeah. I need to borrow that antiquated computer of yours, love, and start my email right way. Twelve pages, dear Satan."
“Poor sweetheart. There’s some old newspapers around if you want inspiration for evil deeds."
“Thanks, darling.” Crowley dropped a kiss on top of his head and said in a kind of furious rush, “Love you love you love you,” and swung his legs off his lap, wandering to the office.
Aziraphale sighed, and finished his practically untouched tea, which was still at the perfect temperature. It was probably all for the best, but he ached for more kissing, and he was anxious at the result of the consultation with Daniel. He also, he was uncomfortably aware, hadn’t done much to resolve Dagon’s problem. He felt it was highly unlikely that the demon was planning to profess true love and marry a Dominion. He hoped he had done the right thing by mentioning Sandalphon.
“So that was Raphael,” Crowley called from the next room.
“It was. Angel of Love and Joy, among other things."
“Michael certainly seemed to think so.” Aziraphale could hear the smirk in his voice. “Never seen her so soft."
“Maybe she was just pleased that you recognised her as your mummy."
“She likes fish, anyway. Thought she might be sympathetic to Dagon."
Aziraphale gathered up the teacups and took them to empty and wash. Nice of Michael to taste it. She always had seemed gentle behind the sternness. Still, better not muck around with any trivial miracles.
Crowley’s almost manically cheerful voice floated in from the office, accompanied by frantic typing. “You’ll need another ring. I suppose you want me to buy it with money. De Beers or Cartier?"
“Neither. Crowley, you don’t need to—"
“What colour diamonds do you prefer?"
“I suppose you prefer black,” Aziraphale sighed. “I’m not keen on the ethical implications of diamonds."
“Nah, goes with my aesthetic, but they’re cheap diamonds, used to be used by industry. You?” The keys rattled on.
“Cognac or champagne,” Aziraphale admitted.
“Perfect. Beige and boozy, you old lush. I don’t suppose there are wedding rings with black pearls.” He trailed off dreamily, the rattling of keys ceasing for a moment, and then added, “for oysters."
“Pearls mean tears, don’t they?”Aziraphale said, glad his blush couldn’t be seen. "Michael will be touched."
“Oh, shut it, angel."
There was another knock on the door. Seriously, Aziraphale thought, going to tell whoever it was off. Human, angel or demon, he was not in the mood for more visitors. He just wanted to be left alone to make Crowley coffee and lend moral—immoral—well, some kind of support while he did his paperwork. Still, there was some tension at the thought of who could be calling at this late hour. Maybe, he thought hopefully, Raphael had sorted things with Daniel already.
The door swung open to reveal the small, sturdy shape of Sandalphon, in his own body, the one that had been swept bodily up to Heaven so long ago.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said, Principality, and that we both suffer the same kind of problems with human corporations,” he said without preamble. “And then Raphael came to talk to me, and said you had been asking about marriage."
Aziraphale blushed scarlet. “She had no right to tell you!"
Sandalphon made a dismissive gesture. “It’s for the best. I didn’t realise what you were going through, trapped all alone on Earth."
Aziraphale looked at him in deep astonishment. Sandalphon looked... sympathetic. Soft. His dark brown eyes wide, his gold teeth glinting. Perhaps he wasn’t so bad after all. Sodom had been a very, very long time ago, and everyone had been more militant back then.
“It’s going to be all right, Aziraphale. I’ll support you. Got to be there for an angel who loves music as much as you do. We have a lot in common, after all."
“That’s very kind of you,” he said with deep relief. “Really, very, very kind indeed."
Aziraphale found himself wrapped in an affectionate hug, the scent of lemons and carnations filling his senses. He couldn’t remember ever having been embraced by a fellow angel. The feeling of safe, Divine love swept through him.
“As soon as the rest of the Board agree, Aziraphale, we can be married straight away,” Sandalphon said.
1) Swedenborgians, aka the New Church, have some really interesting ideas about spiritual marriage, if only they weren't so gender binary and heterosexual.
2) Carnations and lemons are associated with Sandalphon. He must smell rather nice.
3) I'm sorry.
Chapter 19: The joker's always smiling in every hand that's dealt
There was a muffled giggle against his chest, but it sounded slightly hysterical. “I think I just got betrothed."
“Yes, yes you did,” Crowley said giddily.
Crowley’s hands flew across the keys, taking credit for every ingenious human iniquity that came to mind. Putting flavoured syrups in coffee. Attempts by antivaxxers to give Pestilence a comeback. Data collection. Social RTS games. Manspreading, an art at which Crowley modestly considered himself a master. Cream in bacon carbonara. Keypad tones. Company complaint lines with several different departments—oh, wait, that was him. Charities spending their funds on board meetings in singles resorts. Singles resorts. He usually took the pride of an artist in his memos, but now he just wanted to be done.
He was so ridiculously happy that he thought he might shatter at any moment, as if his demon heart wasn’t designed to hold so much love and hope. His human form knew quite well how to react to an influx of love and longing, and was aching and twitching, and it was all he could do not to abandon the keyboard and go fling himself on Aziraphale and demand more kisses, more promises, more… everything.
Pathetic, he thought, and it made him grin anyway. Some great tempter, acting like a besotted teenager because after thousands of years his angel was his and he was inches away from proving it—oh, no, no, that wasn’t helping. Still, he held back on the miracle. He wanted to enjoy the desire, now it was no longer something broken and hopeless. Now Aziraphale loved him and wanted him and dear Crowley he needed to get a ring on him as soon as possible before he changed his mind about binding himself to a besmirched, fallen creature, then get him into bed to seal the deal, lavish so much love and lust on him and make him fall apart so completely that he wouldn’t think of ever changing his mind and leaving, would just stay In Crowley’s arms always… Oh, bless, Crowley had to concentrate or he would never get his report done.
He vaguely registered the door being knocked again. Well, Aziraphale of all beings knew how to deal with unwanted customers. Eleven pages, twelve—and sent. He hoped it would give Dagon a good laugh, and maybe be forwarded up the line to Lord Beelzebub. Crowley could do with some gold stars from Hell if he was about to marry an angel.
Part of him was terrified that all his old hidden dreams were out in the open. As if being exposed like this made him unsafe. But—he had Aziraphale on his side now. They had already proved they could beat anything together. He shoved the chair away and loped out to the main bookshop, having even more trouble than usual remembering what to do with his legs.
Crowley was more than startled to realise that the customer was not only still in the shop, but had Aziraphale folded in his arms. He felt the hackles on his neck rise and his tongue lengthen and fork.
“Hullo.” He did his best to hiss despite the lack of sibilants in the greeting. “Who'sss thisss?” Ah, that was better. Frigid. Not quite threatening yet, but asserting dominance.
Aziraphale broke away from the embrace with what seemed like relief. Good. “I think I had better handle this,” he told the customer.
Crowley took the man in coldly. Short, pleasantly round. Not good looking precisely, but intelligent looking, with a strong nose and jowls and really quite lovely black eyes under a receding hairline, a type that gave Crowley a sudden nostalgia for far ago days in Thisbe, despite the immaculately tailored suit. Not a rival, he told himself. No matter how many books this man had read, no matter how sophisticated he looked, Aziraphale had made it abundantly clear that his type was gangling and loose-limbed and currently dressed like an attractively gone to seed rockstar. Aziraphale was his, he had promised, and this human could piss right off.
Human… There was the sense of great age. He had thought the eyes were beautiful because of lucky genetics, but they were perhaps too beautiful. Too large, too black, too luminous. The only eyes Crowley regularly saw the were as stunning as those were--
He hissed more openly this time, stepping forwardly possessively. “We’re closssed, and he’s bussssy. Deliver your assignment and leave.” He let his tongue flicker out over lengthened teeth to taste the angelic scent of petrichor in the air, pushed his glasses back over his head, because both sides knew they were friends now, and he was saved if he’d let an angel scare him out of his—he meant Aziraphale’s—own shop.
The strange angel smiled, all teeth, and with an odd glint of gold and steel in his large white teeth. Nothing like Aziraphale’s angelic smiles, full of radiance and shyness and laughter and pleasure. A gleaming, offensive, joyless smile that took away any attraction in his features, made it a grimacing mask that made Crowley’s fists itch.
“I’ll let you explain, Aziraphale,” he said, with a strange triumph. “Or would you rather?"
“No, no, please go.” Aziraphale pushed at the man’s chest gently, and Crowley didn’t know whether to redouble his protectiveness or be proud at Aziraphale for standing up for himself. He started to circle the pair, just in case. “I want to tell him alone."
“As you like,” the unknown angel said, his expression softening, and Crowley’s heart leapt in hope. Of course. The mysterious Principality Daniel, Angel of Marriage. Couldn’t be expected to like a demon, but if he was smiling at Aziraphale, it couldn’t be bad news, could it?
“Yes, please. We’ll—we’ll settle the details later.” Aziraphale gave the angel a look, one of the overwhelmed fluttering gratitude and relief that Crowley felt was rightfully reserved for himself alone, and the demon’s blood ran even colder than usual. Unreasonable. Of course he was relieved, if it was good news.
The strange angel smirked at Crowley in what he felt was an oddly personal way, and then pecked a kiss on Aziraphale’s lips in what felt like an even more personal gesture. He didn’t remember all this kissing business in Heaven, Lucifer and Asmodeus had been a bit handsy, but other angels didn’t touch much. But then, he supposed Aziraphale wouldn’t be the only Principality to risk going a bit native.
Aziraphale looked like a deer caught in headlights, at least. No pleasure in the caress. Not like he looked when Crowley kissed him. Still, Crowley let his circle tighten, and slid a possessive arm around Aziraphale’s shoulder.
The other angel gave him an odd look. Amused in a nasty way. Triumphant?
“I’ll see you later, demon,” he said. “Or hopefully not. Take care, Aziraphale. If he turns nasty, summon me straight away."
“Yes—yes.” Crowley waited in vain for an indignant “Crowley would never!” Instead Aziraphale gently urged the strange angel to the door. he didn’t say anything until the door was closed and locked and shades dropped over the door and windows, and then he turned under Crowley’s arm and buried his head on his chest.
“Hey.” Crowley wrapped his other arm around his waist, and through his concern felt the thrill that he was allowed to do this. He hoped the clinging was just expelled relief. “You right, angel?” He rested his hand under Aziraphale’s waistcoat and circled his thumb firmly and soothingly through his shirt, on the pliant roll of flesh on Aziraphale's waist above his hip. Crowley's pulse sang that this intimacy was permitted, where he had often longed to touch and squeeze, especially in days of fewer layers and finer cloth.
There was a muffled giggle against his chest, but it sounded slightly hysterical. “I think I just got betrothed."
“Yes, yes you did,” Crowley said giddily.
Crowley froze. Only his circling thumb still moved. His breath and heart stopped as if the corporation had forgotten how to work.
“Angel,” he said, very slowly, when he remembered how to take air back into his lungs, “I thought you just said you were betrothed to Sandalphon. That couldn’t possibly be right, because you’re mine.”
“Oh, it’s the foolishest misunderstanding.” Aziraphale sounded bright and, yes, distinctly hysterical.
“You see, Raphael—well, I suppose it would have been Daniel, really—"
“That was Daniel? You’d best clear it up quickly.” No, wait. It fell into place. Ancient Persia, and a tall handsome human doing crosswords, and the same venomous smirk from both. “Please. Tell me you didn't just let Sandalphon kiss you. Please."
“It took me by surprise,” Aziraphale said defensively. “And it would have been rude..."
Crowley released him and stepped away, searching for words that would not be loud, would not open up breaches, when the demon in his heart was screaming rage and jealousy.
“He thought you are in a relationship, and you let him kiss you.” The words came out between his teeth like glass shards, but quietly enough.
“You couldn’t possibly think I wanted to.” Aziraphale looked astonished, as if he had suggested something utterly absurd. He pushed back, looked at Crowley with sea-bright eyes. What had Crowley been thinking, to imagine for a moment that any eyes on any other angel could be as pretty as his angel’s when they were all round and innocent? “Or that it was the same as, well. Kissing you."
Those eyes glanced away and down, lashes falling, and the round smooth cheeks blossomed with pink, and Crowley kissed him, thinking despairingly that he was giving in and letting Aziraphale have exactly what he wanted while letting go of his justified outrage. It was impossible to resent it when what Aziraphale wanted was what he had wanted for innumerable centuries, but it was at least a little unfair.
“You bastard,” Crowley sighed, pulling him close again anyway, as Aziraphale gave a happy wriggle. “What have you got us into?"
“I’m really not sure it’s my fault. He seems to have got the idea into his head that—that I just want to be married in general, I suppose. That we could solve each other’s problems."
“And what exactly is your problem?” Crowley growled.
“You, I think, my beloved.” Aziraphale stroked his exquisitely well-kept fingers down a leather sleeve, and Crowley was sorry he was wearing so many layers, when he wanted to feel the touch for himself.
“Well, as long as I'm your problem."
“Always.” He tipped his head to be kissed again, and it was not like demons were any good at resisting temptation, at least not when it was offered up with a willing pout.
“You need to fix this,” Crowley said with an attempt at firmness, when he had a chance. “Talk to Sandalphon. Or at least to Raphael."
“That’s no good, she’ll think it’s funny.” Aziraphale’s soft face suddenly hardened. “My dear, you don’t expect me to turn Sandalphon down?"
It was a while before any of the sounds coming out of Crowley’s throat resolved themselves into words. When they did, all he could manage was “Obvioussssly."
“Don’t be silly,” Aziraphale said. “It would hurt the poor boy’s feelings.” He gave Crowley’s jeans-clad rear a fond squeeze, but his words were so blatantly unreasonable that Crowley hardly registered it.
“Hurt. His. Feelings. Hurt them now."
“Well, that wouldn’t do us any good, would it?” Aziraphale said in sensible tones. ”Jilting him certainly won’t earn us his vote or his brother’s if our marriage comes before the Board."
“Neither will marrying him!” Crowley stared down at Aziraphale, who was crinkling his angelic brow as if he was being the unfair one. “Unless—no.” He stepped away again and folded his arms. “Nothing against polygamy for other people, but no. Not after all these years. Put it down to avaritia if you like, I’m a bloody demon and I’ll covet you all I want. I’m not sharing. "
“Oh, don’t pout, darling. I have no intention of marrying him.” Aziraphale gave him one of his winning, closed-mouth smiles, head tilted fetchingly to one side. “My only darling."
Do not melt, Crowley told himself. Do not melt. He is being a complete, rosy cheeked, rounded, long-lashed, curly haired, sweetly smiling, adorable, sexy son of a bachelor, and I am furious with him.
“So what do you have in mind?” he said more weakly than he meant to, already conceding defeat. “And you are a terrible, terrible angel."
“Oh, I know,” Aziraphale said happily. “No one would put up with me unless they were desperately in love with me, I think you put it.” He stepped closer again and wound his arms around Crowley’s neck, pressing his lips against the skin between his neck and his jaw.
“Don’t be so smug,” Crowley said. It came out more of a breath than a reproof. “Yes, yes I am, my angel. Tell me you love me the same."
“Desperately,” Aziraphale breathed into his ear. “Do you think Sandalphon is desperately in love with me?"
“Don’t ask me that now—no.” Aziraphale flicked his tongue against Crowley’s earlobe, and he shuddered.. “No. No one could love you the way I do. But they should, you shine so brightly, my Aziraphale, please.” He didn’t even know what he was asking for, only that his folded arms were crushed together.
“I think Sandalphon finds me pleasant company,” Aziraphale said calmly, laying his full cheek against Crowley’s narrow one. “I think we have a lot in common, and he thinks we will get along well enough. He might even be attracted to me physically. I think he wants to rescue me from you. But I can’t imagine him looking at me the way you do."
“Thank existence for that, or I’d bloody discorporate him,” Crowley muttered.
“He doesn’t know any of my faults,” Aziraphale went on, suddenly fluttering. “My terrible, terrible, annoying traits. How demanding I can be, how unreasonable, how needy, how self-centred, how sarcastic, how petty...“
“Not annoying. Love it when you want things,” Crowley murmured, wriggling his arms out so he could cup Azirphale’s chin and look into his face. “Love it when you look pleading and I know I can make you glow. Love it when you’re a vicious bastard. Love you."
Aziraphale looked up at him, so sweetly, so lovingly. “But will Sandalphon appreciate me?"
“He’d better,” Crowley said wildly.
“I think he’d better not.” Aziraphale looked lovingly and patiently at him, as if he was an endearingly thick child.
“Oh.” Crowley grinned down, the light coming on. “You mean, you want it to be a relief to hand you back to me."
“You want him to rejoice in the thought of never, ever having to spend time with you again."
“Indeed.” Aziraphale looked coyly up at him. “Will you help me be really irritating, darling?"
“With pleasure.” Crowley grinned toothily at him. “Want me to make a list?"
Danse Macabre rang out briefly and cut off. Crowley’s phone pinged with a text. He groaned. “Sweetheart, I have to get that.” He pulled his phone out and stared at the screen.
Got message from Sandy. Treacherous snake. See how you do without your powers until you keep your side of the deal. Email report received, all satisfactory, Lord Beelzebub says keep up the sterling work. And fuck off. Regards, Dagon. XXX
1) Title is Kylie again. I believe in you.
2) Most demons may not like technology, but Dagon appreciates the subtle levels of insult available in sign-offs and passive-aggressive kisses. When they leave off "Kindest" before their "Regards", Crowley knows he is deep in lava.
3) Obviously Aziraphale is a perfect princess and never, ever annoying, but Sandalphon is too mired in smiting-ness to realise this.
Chapter 20: We all have our cross to bear
So, I read this fic in which Crowley gave up his powers and it made absolutely no difference to his existence.
Aziraphale spent the night reinforcing his protective charms around the bookshop, making sure no angels, as well as no demons, could see inside, and refusing to let Crowley have any alcohol.
“You have to drive in the morning,” he said sharply, when Crowley whined at finding the liquor cabinet locked no matter how many times he snapped his fingers at it. “I’m not risking discorporation now of all times.“
“Sober me up afterwards, then."
“I’m not risking accidentally blessing you. You can survive without drinking for one night."
Crowley, who hadn’t gone without drinking a single night that he had been awake in the last five thousand years, flung himself face down on the couch with a desolate sob.
“Don’t be so theatrical. I’ll make you a nice cup of tea, and then off to bed.”
Crowley looked up hopefully. “Angel?"
“No. You are going to bed, to be well-rested for all the driving tomorrow. I am making sure my betrothed can’t drop in unexpectedly and touch my books."
“ I’m your betrothed, and I’m not interested in your blasted books."
“You know perfectly well what I mean. Stop glowering at me like a child,” Aziraphale added, although his back was turned as he carefully traced another sigil in the air.
“Are you already practising irritating Sandalphon, or is this just you being you?"
Aziraphale sighed and perched on the arm of the chair. “I’m sorry, dearest. I know this is hard on you. But I’m sure Dagon will forgive you once I’ve explained the situation to them.”
“Oh, yeah, they are known for being kind and forgiving and not sadistic in the slightest."
“Now, now, they are perfectly pleasant.” Aziraphale wound his fingers in short hair, scratching Crowley’s scalp gently as if he was caressing a cat. He was hoping it would make it hard to stay petulant, but Crowley made the heroic effort.
“I don’t know why they’re punishing me . Why does everyone always blame me? Why is everything always my fault?” Crowley demanded of the universe.
“No. It’s not fair. I wasn’t the one who seduced Sandalphon."
“I certainly did not seduce anyone."
“Tell me about it,” Crowley grumbled, and Aziraphale chuckled. “Oh, you are the worst."
“Isn’t that the point?” He slid his fingers through soft hair.
Crowley made a noise hat somehow managed to suggest that no, it was not, at least not being the worst to him , but that the petting was nice. He moved to pillow his face on Aziraphale's thighs.
“I’ll make you the tea,” Aziraphale said, immediately pushing his head off and standing up, and Crowley made a noise of protest this time. “Go get changed for bed, you can’t possibly sleep properly in that ridiculous outfit. There’s pyjamas in my bedside drawer."
“You do have a bed, then. You have pyjamas? Why?"
“Normally when I stay in hotels, it’s planned, and I like to have the right luggage and give the proper human image. Besides, they are comfy."
Crowley sat up and gave him a meaningful smile that, unfortunately, Aziraphale was at a loss to decode, and went upstairs in a suspiciously lamblike manner, including the uncertain control of limbs that lambs have. Aziraphale sighed and headed for the kitchenette.
Five minutes later he was pounding up the stairs in response to a shriek of “Angel, help!”. He gathered Grace around him, ready to smite any enemies.
“What’s wrong?” He glanced around the room looking for threats. Crowley was lying topless and face down on the bed, jeans rucked around his hips, fly stretched open.
“I can’t get my jeans off without help."
“ Crowley. ” Relief and annoyance sharpened his voice.
“I can’t get them back on either. They’re stuck on my hips!” he whined.
“If this is some hare-brained seduction attempt, we agreed to wait until things are sorted out."
“I’m stuck, angel, honest.” Crowley’s cheeks burned.”And the zip is cutting into my—please help.”
“If they weren’t so ridiculously tight—oh, Crowley, why in existence did you roll the waistband down like that? No wonder you got stuck.” Crowley hadn’t even taken his shoes off first, the trousers would have become stuck around his ankles if he even got that far. Snakeskin shoes on his bedcovers, too. "That’s not how you take trousers off,” Aziraphale said helplessly.
“Isn’t it?” muttered Crowley, flushing even deeper. “Ow."
“No, it’s not. Oh. Oh, don’t tell me you’ve never taken your own trousers off."
“I have. But y’know. before zippers and jeans and things. When there were… suspenders and laces."
“But what about in front of humans? What kind of a temptation demon are you?"
“One that’s better at provoking wrath than lust, obviously."
“Well, I suppose it’s better to know in advance so I can lower my expectations for the wedding night, dear."
“Oh, you bastard. Sandalphon has no idea what he’s in for.” Aziraphale tittered despite himself, and Crowley collapsed with laughter. “Azirphaaaale, it hurts. Please, I really do need help. Please."
“It’s so sweet when you beg."
“ Angel . Don’t start that now. It’s impossible to get them off already."
“I’m not even sure I own a seam ripper. Maybe rubbing you down with oil would help."
“I said to stop it. Can’t you just miracle them off?"
“And explain in my reports that I am miracling a demon in my bed out of his trousers? Do you really want that read by your mummy ?"
“You’re never going to let that go, are you?” Crowley's attempt to snarl wasn’t particularly convincing and Aziraphale was suddenly ridiculously happy. “Take pity, my darling. You’re an angel, after all."
Aziraphale's glow dimmed a little. He waved his fingers, and Crowley found himself freed from his jeans, and just for safety’s sake, covered up nicely in soft cotton pyjamas, including a pyjama top. There had been, Aziraphale decided, entirely enough writhing around half-naked on the bed for one night. “Angels are not always particularly merciful.”
“ You are,” Crowley said, squirming fluidly around to sit across his lap, one arm draped around Aziraphale's shoulders and the other finding one of Aziraphale’s own and linking their fingers together. “My hero, saving me from the evil human jeans. Warned you I’d be a cuddler. You have such a lovely broad lap for sitting on. Why have I been wasting centuries sitting separately?"
Aziraphale hummed quietly and ran his hands down his back, feeling the bones and musculature through the cotton. Delicate and strong all at once. He didn’t particularly want to answer the question, too much pain and fear and old longing there. Better to focus on the almost unimaginable reality of actually holding this ridiculous, precious creature close at last.
“We should be grateful to Dagon and Sandalphon,” he said dreamily.
“Yeah, right. I’m feeling incredibly grateful right about now."
“I mean it. Just a few days ago I was hoping I could convince you to leave London for a bit, see if, when we were out of our usual routine we might… well… I didn’t even really dare to think about it. Something. Look at us now."
“In a mess as usual, and still not putting out,” grumbled Crowley, tightening his grasp on hand and shoulders and sinking his teeth into Aziraphale’s shoulder for good measure. Aziraphale winced, despite the layers of clothes protecting his skin. “Sorry, snake instincts. You’re so soft, couldn’t help it. Are you really sending me to sleep like a human kid?"
“You need to drive in the morning. And it looks like we will have to buy you some new trousers. That fit ."
“Huh. At least stay a while."
Aziraphale thought of the work he should probably do to prepare for the coming days, and then shifted around fully onto the bed, dragging Crowley with him. He settled down with Crowley still draped across him. Just a little miracle to get the quilt out from under them and over them instead. The poor boy was cold-blooded.
“I’ll stay until you sleep,” he promised.
“Always so soft. Oh, I love you.” Crowley pressed a kiss against his jaw. “Mine.” There was a touch of defiance under the possessiveness, an insecurity that made Aziraphale’s heart ache.
“Yours,” he promised. “We’ll sort this out, beloved, and I’ll prove it to you. And you’re mine."
“Always was,” Crowley agreed sleepily. “You know, talking of expectations, one of those books on getting rid of demon spouses—I’m burning them, by the way—said that sex demons are principalities. You have a lot to prove."
“I look forward to it,” Aziraphale said, but Crowley was already asleep.
The Bentley lurched forward, stalled, and Crowley furiously pumped the pedal. “Drive, bless you! Show some fucking loyalty! Wait, no, I didn’t mean to swear at you, baby.” He patted the wheel apologetically. “Let’s try again for Daddy."
He managed to get her moving again at last, straight at another car.
“Slow down!” Aziraphale said, out of habit, but actually the Bentley was moving very, very slowly. The other driver had ample time to get out of the way and scream abuse at them.
Crowley stuck his head out of the window and screamed worse. “Why won’t she speed up?” he lamented, flattening the accelerator. “ Why are there cars in my fucking road? Get out of the way!"
Ten minutes later, the two of them were standing on the side of the road again, Aziraphale having spent another miracle to park the Bentley.
“So,” he said, as calmly as possible, when his heart seemed to be pumping like a proper human one and not trying to escape his body. “We have established that you don’t actually know how to drive."
“I’ve been driving nearly a century!"
“You’ve been miracling your way through traffic for nearly a century.” He hailed a taxi, and Crowley, sulking, followed him. The demon was in too bad of a mood to even attempt getting cuddly or handsy in the back which, Aziraphale told himself, was a relief. Crowley was sulky enough at wearing beige trousers.
Aziraphale thought a discreet and quirky boutique was Crowley’s style, but he had no idea how to find such a thing, and Crowley didn’t buy clothes at all. Aziraphale’s usual tailors didn’t, as far as he knew, sell ready to wear jeans. In the end Aziraphale took the easy option and went to Harrods, where he bought his own underwear.
It took some time to find jeans black, tight and expensive enough to please Crowley. An assistant was summoned as Crowley had no idea what his size was. lt took all of Aziraphale’s sweetness and a slight use of angelic powers to defuse the situation when an unfortunate assistant suggested that black skinny fits just weren’t all that fashionable these days and would sir like to try some nice blue slim jeans that were more flattering and suitable for his age.
Crowley made a whispered plea of not knowing how to put them on and needing to drag Aziraphale into the changing room with him, but when Aziraphale suggested sending the assistant in to dress him the demon glowered and flounced in alone. Aziraphale helpfully called after him, “Remember to take your shoes off first, dear!"
Eventually he emerged in skin-fitting black jeans in coated denim, glistening on his slender thighs like oil. He revolved slowly, smirking. “Satisfactory?"
Aziraphale licked his suddenly dry lips. “Quite."
Crowley smirked. “I’ll take six.” He turned his attention to underwear, socks and t-shirts.
Hen they finally made it back to the counter, the assistant, who was already nervous of Crowley, sent him a terrified look at the counter. “I’m very sorry, but it seems your credit card isn’t working. I’m sure it’s a mistake."
Crowley threw four more at him. “Try those,” he said grimly.
Ten minutes later, Aziraphale’s credit card was lighter by several thousand pounds, and Crowley was fuming in the Roastery and Bake Hall.
“They’re just doing this to humiliate me. They know I like to pay.”
”For an angel’s food, with Hell’s money. Possibly they have a reason to be annoyed, dear. Try this.” He lifted a forkful of buttery, flakey croissant, and Crowley shut up for a moment.
“S'nice,” he admitted. “You do realise that assistant thinks I’m your kept man?"
“Was it humiliating?” Aziraphale asked thoughtfully.
“Yes, yes it was.” Crowley frowned. “I don’t think that would work with Sandalphon, though. Likely to be more annoying if you demand things in your picky, pernickety way, and Sandalphon will know everyone will think he’s paying for your company."
“Is it really that annoying, dear?” Aziraphale asked, suddenly struck with compunction, despite the recent memory of Crowley fussing because a £2,000 dressing gown had navy detailing as well as red and he wasn't sure it fit his aesthetic.
“I adore it.” Crowley sent him a languishing glance. "But Sandalphon is not me. It’s worth a try."
“True.” He smiled happily. “I can be very trying."
Crowley caught the hand with the fork and kissed Aziraphale’s wrist before making the next forkful of croissant. “We need to go pick Dagon up,” he said once he had chewed and swallowed. “Can you hire a car and driver? I would, but..."
“Surely they won’t expect a lift back after all of this."
“You do not,” Crowley said, “know Dagon. They will be looking forward to it.” He descended into gloom, and Aziraphale decided it was tactful to remain silent, in case Crowley was traumatised by the thought of cheating on the Bentley.
“Of course I understand,” Dagon said, patting Aziraphale’s knee comfortingly. “I’m not upset with you at all. I quite see it wasn’t your fault."
“Thank you,” Aziraphale said gratefully. “If you could see your way to—"
“It was the stupid snake’s fault. You wouldn’t have ended up engaged to Sandy if he had taken better care of you, darling. Crowley doesn’t deserve you."
“Get your fucking hand off his knee,” snarled Crowley.
Dagon smiled sweetly at him. “You mean get your fucking hand off his knee, My Lord . I’ve already taken your powers and your credit cards. What else would you like to lose? Your hair?"
Crowley’s hand went defensively to his buzzed sides, and Aziraphale hastily covered Dagon’s hand with his own. “No need for that. Dagon, please be kind. Crowley’s as helpless as a baby without his powers."
“ Don’t tell them that! ” Crowley hissed desperately.
“Nice jeans,” said Dagon. “Did your sugar daddy here buy them?"
“That… that is so unfair.” Crowley sprawled face-down across a couch, knocking dozens of pillows out of the way as he did.
“Your skinny arse looks good in them, though,” Dagon said. Crowley rolled over, glaring. “And your—"
“So, we need your help with Sandalphon,” Aziraphale said hastily. He picked up the box on the coffee table.“Try this Turkish Delight, it’s a Harrods speciality. You won’t have anything like that in Hell."
“Did that bastard serpent make you pay for it yourself?” Dagon asked sympathetically, helping themselves to sweets. Crowley choked.
“Are you going to let that poor human have her body back?” Crowley demanded in return.
“No, I think not. It’s quite useful for now, and she should've been more specific when she signed the contract. So, Aziraphale, how can I be of help to getting your lovely self out of this fix?"
“Well.” Aziraphale beamed at them. Demons he reflected, were much more restful and understanding company than angels. It would almost be worth Falling to spend all his time with demons. Hell couldn’t be all that bad. He’d heard it was warm. “I have a plan."
1) FASHION SHOW.
2) I have a busy weekend planned, so it might be a few days until the next update. Sandy will have a few brief moments of peace before discovering what it really is like to be Aziraphale’s betrothed, especially with two demons hovering protectively around.
3) Three chapters. This monster was going to be three chapters long. I promise, once more, a happy ending and actual consummation. Question is, as part of the main fic, or separate to retain a relatively pure rating? Thoughts welcome.
Chapter 21: All the lovers
"The thing is, Aziraphale is kind of a package deal. He comes with an Adversary. If you marry him, you’ll be spending a lot of time in my company."
Crowley bounded out of the car and down the long drive as if being in a vehicle he was not driving had been some torment of Hell. Actually, when Aziraphale considered it that way, it was exactly what it was, inflicted by the Master of Torments themselves. He resolved to have another word with Dagon, who was a nice reasonable being, when Crowley wasn’t around to provoke them. Aziraphale was still a little sorry for Nell, although hopefully she was learning a valuable lesson about contracts with demons and how unwise they were for fragile little humans.
Aziraphale followed Crowley more slowly. He thanked the driver, sending love to her wife and children—Aziraphale had enjoyed a lovely conversation with her about them all the way down from London from his perch in the nicely seat belted back seat, ignoring the inconsiderate demons trying to change the subject—and tipping generously. When he reached the front door step, Crowley was snarling at the winter jasmine over the door frame.
“You’re not listening to me, are you? No, you really are not listening to me. You’re not scared at all. Bloody Dagon, won’t even let me talk to our plants properly. They are going to get completely out of order."
Our plants. Aziraphale noted the phrasing with a warm twisting in his stomach. “Take off your glasses, beloved,” he said suddenly, struck by an impulse.
Crowley pushed them to the top of his head, one eyebrow quirked and a faint flush on his cheeks, and the winter jasmine burst out into a cascade of yellow stars behind him. The rich, seductive scent of white flowers, the gold of Crowley’s eyes reflected by the flowers, his lithe figure in dark clothes and burnished hair and the bright, bright eyes and jasmine. Aziraphale sucked the picture into his head, and image to keep forever, a moment of perfect beauty, on the threshold of the cottage—their cottage, at least for the moment.
“How is it that you want me, you strange stunning thing?” he asked wonderingly.
Crowley’s flush increased and he ducked his head. “Th-hat’s easy. Look, you can’t just make it bloom like that, not until well after Christmas. It will lose all sense of order and discipline. And the scent, do even you know winter jasmine isn’t fragranced?"
“Isn’t it? I love the smell of jasmine. I thought all jasmine had it."
“I can tell,” Crowley said, and his smile was fond and frustrated.
“Don’t you like the smell?” Aziraphale asked, pretending hurt, eyelashes fluttering down. Crowley must know it was a pretence, yet he still behaved perfectly, cupping Aziraphale's chin and lifting his face.
“I love it. It’s rich and luscious and flamboyant, just like you.” He stepped closer. “And it’s an aphrodisiac."
“Perhaps you should supply my barber with more jasmine scents."
“Yes, I should—wait, you knew I do that?"
Aziraphale smiled at him. “It’s aways a delight seeing what you come up with."
“Huh.” Crowley recovered his dignity a little. “Well, you deserve nice things and to be indulged and spoiled. You deserve everything. And it’s my job to know about aphrodisiacs and ways to waste money. Night-flowering jasmine is sexy as hell, because it’s indolic.” Then, because he was a demon and had trouble sticking to what was appropriate without letting his mouth run on, added “That means it has scent molecules that smell like arse, or at least like--"
Aziraphale pecked him quickly on the lips before he could spoil the moment completely, and opened the door, feeling that he would be safer away from prying eyes.
“if I deserve everything, then make me some tea while I set new wards against observation.” He tried to make his tone flirtatious and meaningful, but self-consciousness and the thought that he was being ridiculous made him look down and up in embarrassment, expecting Crowley must think him ridiculous. Seductiveness was something best achieved by demons with loose hips and tight trousers that glimmered on his svelte thighs like petrol, and not with—
Crowley’s eyes were dark gold and black, the whites barely visible, and his hands clenched and unclenched on Aziraphale’s shoulder, and he made a strange noise twice before managing actual words, even if they were more like reptilian sounds than human speech. “If you look at Sandalphon like that even once, all bets about driving him away are off, because there’s no way anyone wouldn’t forgive you anything to be looked at like that.” He leaned in, mouth close enough that his lips were ghosting over Aziraphale’s own. Silently asking permission. That was more of a thrill than anything, that Crowley was a demon, that he had all this banked power, and he did bank it, patiently waiting on permission, needing to be accepted.
Aziraphale tipped his chin very slightly, let his lips be claimed, tilting his head down to receive kisses on his eyelids, let Crowley’s mouth find his again, hungry and tender. It already felt like a ritual, like years of repressed intimacy flowering into kisses, something no one in this modern world did or understood. Like worship. And what a strange thought that was, a demon worshipping an angel, and he was afraid himself at if the word might fit what he felt, because that was even more blasphemous for a soldier of the Lord, to feel reverence for one of the Fallen...
He wound his arms around Crowley’s neck, parted his lips and move in for a deeper kiss, feeling the cool slide of a demon tongue into the warmth of his mouth.
There was a clink of dishes from the kitchen, and Crowley spun away, shoulders tensed and ready to fight. And that was a thrill, too, feeling so instinctively protected, although really what could some human burglar do to him, and why would they be in the kitchen anyway? He put a soothing hand on Crowley’s arm.
Sandalphon emerged from the kitchen, two mugs in hand. “Hello, Aziraphale. What happened to your kitchen?"
“I did,” Crowley snarled. “I wanted it to feel more like home. Fair’s fair. Aziraphale gets pink walls, I get the smell of fire and ashes."
Sandalphon looked less than amused. “This is not your home, demon."
“I’m afraid it is,” Aziraphale said apologetically. “At least when he gets tired of London. We already had an Arrangement before, well…"
“Congratulations on your betrothal,” Crowley said, his tone nasty. “I hope you realise you are engaged to the only real angel in Heaven or outside."
“You’re no judge of that, snake."
“And here I am, being friendly. Let me offer my congratulations at carrying off my Adversary. He is a catch even for an archangel. Aren’t you even a little worried that he already has a demon spouse?” He leaned his hip against the back of the sofa and removed both mugs from Sandalphon’s hands, passing one to Aziraphale.
Sandalphon snorted and sat down on an armchair, his smile wide. Aziraphale was a little impressed. Instead of being intimidated by Crowley’s height, the Dominion was smug and self-confident enough to lower his head even further. “I’ve been sharing a body with Tristan long enough to know that Aziraphale had no husband until you suddenly turned up."
“You think there was no contract?” Crowley asked, silkily. “Sandy, dear Sandy, think. We averted the Apocalypse together. We have an Arrangement.” Aziraphale wasn’t sure whether he caught a tiny fading of Sandalphon's smile at the word, a mere flicker before the toothy smile returned.
“Not a marriage contract."
“No. But an Arrangement all the same. And you, Angel of Prayer, understand the importance better than anyone—except Dagon.” Sandalphon flinched at the name, Aziraphale was sure of it. Ah. There it was. Not as immune to Dagon’s name as he thought. Crowley pressed his advantage. “Going to run and ask them for advice? I don’t think they will be entirely happy with you, marrying an angel.”
“Why should they care?” Sandalphon asked, in what seemed like genuine bewilderment.
Crowley scrunched his eyes closed. “Angels. Oh, Sandy. You are in no position to be self-righteous about Arrangements. The thing is, Aziraphale is kind of a package deal. He comes with an Adversary. If you marry him, you’ll be spending a lot of time in my company."
“I’m not afraid of you, demon. I’ll protect Aziraphale from you.” It was almost touching. Aziraphale went to sip his tea, and then his nose scrunched with concern.
“I’m no danger to Aziraphale. In fact, I intend to ensure he is very happy.” Crowley smiled. “I’m going to give you the chance to make him happy, and to see how happy he makes you."
“No interference?” Sandalphon’s smile was even nastier than usual.
“Oh, I didn’t say that. But I’m willing to be sensible, for the sake of Aziraphale’s happiness. After all—angel, is something wrong with your tea?"
“Oh, no, no.” Aziraphale sipped it hastily, trying not to flinch too obviously.
“Aziraphale,” Sandalphon said, looking concerned, “is there a problem? You like tea. I thought it was important that I learned to make it."
“It’s fine! It’s lovely, really.”
“Aziraphale?” Sandalphon looked worried now, and Crowley, blast him, was grinning.
“It’s just that it’s Assam tea. And it’s not even lunchtime,” Aziraphale said.
“It said on the tin that it was a breakfast tea."
Aziraphale pouted miserably. “Well, I know some people do like to drink black malty tea early in the morning, and it does go well if you have something greasy like bacon for breakfast, but I find it is better to have green tea mid-morning because it’s brighter and less heavy. Perhaps a nice long jing or Darjeeling. I mean, Darjeeling is technically a black tea, but it’s more of a golden champagne. Er.”
There was a moment, and Sandalphon said steadily, “It may take me a while to learn your material preferences. Tristan liked breakfast tea, but of course, as an angel you have more refined tastes. Is anything else wrong?"
“The temperature. Er. You let the water boil,” Aziraphale said, in a humiliated, hushed voice. “It’s better to stop a kettle just before the before boiling point. I don’t mean to criticise..."
“Of course not, darling, he understands that,” Crowley said cheerfully, draining his own cup. “You just like things perfect, like the perfect angel you are. Come into the kitchen, Sandy, and I’ll show you how to make tea the way he likes it.” He grabbed Sandalphon’s arm and dragged him o his feet. “We’ll leave Zira to phone Dagon and arrange tonight’s double date, right?"
“Well, last night didn’t go very well, so we thought we’d try again,” Aziraphale said. “I mean, we’ve barely started courting, we hardly know each other outside of a working relationship, and when I explained to Crowley and Dagon that you’d proposed, they offered to come along and make everything easier. Isn’t it nice of them?"
“They are demons."
“Demons with a kindly interest in our Adversaries and making sure they don’t marry someone who can’t make them happy, I should hope,” Crowley said, grinning openly. “We can chaperone."
“Chaperone,” Sandalphon repeated blankly. “Chaperoned by demons."
“Well, this is all very new to me,” Aziraphale said defensively.
“And who knows, maybe romance will bloom between us and well and there will be an epidemic of celestial and occult marriages. You could set a precedent. We could—oh, Aziraphale, we could have a double wedding!” Crowley said, as if a delightful thought had just occurred to him.
“I would love to get married on the same day as you, my oldest and dearest enemy.” Aziraphale let the corners of his mouth rise. “It’s my fondest dream."
“Might be good for my career, too. Do you think Dagon fancies me?” Crowley posed theatrically, hip thrust out, hand resting on one buttock.
“Possibly not yet, dear, but those jeans can’t hurt,” Aziraphale said encouragingly, trying not to stare too obviously. “They did express admiration of them, didn’t they? And your lovely, ah—"
“You managed half the word, angel, spit it out. Dagon has better taste than I gave them credit for."
“Let’s have that tea making lesson, snake,” Sandalphon said, rather crossly. “I need to learn how to take care of my future husband.”
Crowley slung a friendly arm over his shoulder and hauled him to his feet and towards the burned-out kitchen. “My pleasure. All right, with lunch Aziraphale prefers pu-erh, to help with digestion, unless he’s having sushi, which he often does, in which case…"
Aziraphale settled back in his chair, feeling warmed and happy about how much care and attention Crowley showed in memorising his little ways.
“Hullo, Sandy,” Dagon said happily. “Nice to see you back in your own body. And congratulations, if you have to marry an angel, this one’s my favourite.” They clapped Aziraphale fondly on the bottom, ignoring the angel and demon both staring daggers.
Aziraphale beamed at them. “This is so thoughtful of you. A mystery double date, and planned by a demon! So exciting."
“Why,” Sandalphon asked coldly, “is our evening together being planned by a demon?"
“Isn’t it kind?” Aziraphale said, a little breathless. “Demons are always the best at luxury. I explained to them that you’d proposed, and they offered to make the day really special, and—"
“Check that everything was going well,” said Dagon, a toothy smile on Nell’s comely face. “Imagine my surprise when I realised Zira had snagged an archangel. I suppose you Dominions like them soft to balance out your lovely smiting tendencies. Well, well, I’ve seen less likely couples. And trios and sextets. Still, I hope you don’t mind, Aziraphale darling, this is my Adversary you’re engaged to. I have to make sure you’re capable of keeping him happy,” Dagon said sternly. Sandalphon gave them a startled look. “After all, there’s a demonic contract at stake, and I’m not breaking it unless I am sure it is necessary for Sandy’s happiness."
“I’m sure he won’t have any problems,” Crowley said smoothly. “Aziraphale is the sweetest being in all the planes of existence, sickeningly sunshiney. I can vouch for that. Now, where are we going?"
“Demonic contract?” Sandalphon seemed a little thrown.
“Crowley is a very valued employee, and he has a prior contract with the angel.” Dagon patted Sandalphon's shoulder. “Not a problem, I’m sure. Demonic contracts can always be broken, given the right circumstances. It’s my speciality. Now, I have a lovely day planned. Nell thinks you will adore shopping for your dear little cottage in Petworth, and then—well, you’ll never guess what I have planned. You two young lovers will be glad you have chaperones. Serpent, shall we?” They extended an arm, and Crowley slid a hand into it, winking at them. “Mustn’t keep the driver waiting."
They looked oddly intimate together, two demons, linked together, and Aziraphale felt a vague pang. He smiled bravely and took Sandalphon’s arm. The archangel seemed to cheer up a little, although he was still frowning in the direction of the demons, and they headed for the car.
Sometime later, they reached their twenty-eighth antique shop. Crowley and Sandalphon were both looking somewhat bedraggled, and Aziraphale was in proud possession of seven new snuff boxes, a fascinating silver hip flask, a matched pair of Shibayama whist markers, a Jaques chess set, an ebonised bracket clock, an eighteenth-century croquet set, and a perfect set of Jodhpur pattern enamelled champagne glasses. The larger pieces were being sent on, but Sandalphon was struggling under the other bags and boxes. Aziraphale had the temptation to offer to carry them, or to suggest a frivolous miracle. He resisted.
Crowley was even more red-faced than Sandalphon. “Stop buying him stuff!” he hissed at Dagon.
“Well, someone has to look after him. Seeing that Sandy won’t spend Heaven’s money on frivolities, and you seem to be short of cash. And there’s four antique shops left to go in this town. Zira, look at this watch chain, isn’t it a beauty?"
“Oh, it’s lovely.” Aziraphale fingered the beautiful thing, admiring the sunset now of the rose gold.
Aziraphale beamed fondly at Dagon. “Thank you, d—my friend."
Crowley choked, and then appealed to Aziraphale. “Angel, this makes no sense. If you wanted an eighteenth-century croquet set, you could have bought one in the eighteenth century,"
“I didn’t know I wanted one then!” Aziraphale protested. “Why don’t you want me to have nice things?"
“I do, I just—it should be--I’m not bloody taking up croquet again!"
“I didn’t know you played."
“It was useful. Great game, designed to do really mean things, pissed people off terribly. The Monopoly of the time. I’m not playing it for fun.” Crowley brightened suddenly. “But then, I don’t have to. You have Sandalphon to play with now. All day every day, if you like."
Sandalphon looked a little hunted. “I’m sure I can learn. Not all day every day, though. I do have a lot of important duties. Prayer categorisation and forwarding, for a start.""
“Now, now, surely you don’t prioritise paperwork over your own angel?"
“Actually,” said Dagon, “paperwork is extremely important.” They smiled at Sandalphon. “I think we should work together in making sure our boys fulfil their duties better don’t you?"
Crowley and Aziraphale exchanged agonised glances.
“Now,” said Dagon, “I need to pop back down to Hell to pick up my own corporation for the next part of the date. Nell here is being a pain, she says that intimate group nudity wasn’t part of the possession agreement, and I guess she has me on the legalities. I’ll put her body on ice for a bit."
“She says that what?” gasped Sandalphon, but Dagon had already vanished.
1) If you ever wondered why jasmine is so love-it-or-hate-it and weirdly, well, carnal, now you know.
2) Petworth does indeed have 32 antiques shops.